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What is the immune system - and how to improve your immunity system?

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What is the immune system?

The immune system, also known as the immunity system, is the human body's defence system. The immune system protects your body from harmful invaders and pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. This is why a good immune system is essential.

To improve your immune system, it is important to know how it works. That way, you can take targeted action and help your body a little when necessary.

How does the immune system work?

A well-functioning immune system can recognise and deactivate pathogens to make them harmless and prevent them from negatively affecting your health. In addition, a healthy immune system knows what is native to the body and what is not, so it knows what it should or should not attack.

Your immune system consists of innate and acquired defences. In this chapter, we take a closer look at innate defences: these are the defences that come into action first when danger threatens. This innate defence roughly consists of two parts:

  • Physical barrier
  • Defence cells that can recognise all pathogens

Physical barrier

Your skin is a perfect example of a physical barrier in the immune system. Layer upon layer of impenetrable cells blocks accesses to your inner world, keeping out the most harmful microbes.

Not all parts of your body benefit from such thick protection. For example, think of your mouth or nose, where you want to absorb food or air. That is why in some places - instead of a layer of skin - you prefer to have as thin a layer as possible between the inside and outside world. This requires extra surveillance in the form of white blood cells (immune cells).

Immune Cells

Defence cells that can recognise pathogens

Your white blood cells, also known as immune cells, are always present. They can recognise and anticipate pathogens. They consist of different variants, each with its own specialisation:

  • Neutrophils - potent against bacteria
  • Natural Killer (NK) Cells - potent against viruses and cancer cells
  • Monocytes - develop into macrophages and are cleaners that clean up junk and heal damage

You don't necessarily need to remember those complicated names, but knowing that every invader is directly targeted by a specific group of white blood cells is intriguing.

Innate defences are often enough to ward off an attack without you even realising you are being attacked in the first place. But sometimes, the invader still gets the upper hand, and the adaptive defence cells have to come into action. This happens with your acquired/adaptive defences, which are very strong against specific pathogens, unlike your innate defences.

Weakened immune system

Sometimes it happens that you have a weak immune system. A weak or weakened immune system makes you more susceptible to infections, and, of course, that's not nice. A weakened immune system can be caused by viruses, blood diseases, hereditary diseases, certain medications, etc.

You should have enough immune cells to improve or avoid a weakened immune system. If this is not the case, you may suffer from unpleasant symptoms such as fatigue, frequent or prolonged colds or wounds that heal slowly.

A healthy immune system stores information. A weak immune system is less able to do this. It is, therefore, logical that a child often gets sick faster. A child's immune system still contains little information, so it is much weaker than the one of an adult that has already collected a lot of information.

Your immune system or defence system determines how good your resistance is. For example, do you have a weakened immune system or a low immune system? Then this can have unpleasant consequences, such as infectious diseases like flu and colds.

What causes a weak immune system?

Anyone can suffer from low immunity. Some are more susceptible to this than others. Factors that can cause a weakened immune system:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor diet
  • Chronic stress
  • Lack of social contacts
  • Negative thoughts
  • Travelling and flying
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking

The above factors inhibit the production of your immune cells and directly weaken your defences. So if you want to improve your weakened immune system, you need to make sure your body produces new immune cells, which does not just happen.

Defence cells or white blood cells need nutrients and energy. Good food, sleep and regular exercise are a good basis to improve your immune system.

How to improve your immunity system?

For the best way to improve the immune system, you need to tackle the problem at its core. And this is not done overnight. To boost your immune system, you must take a critical look at yourself and be willing to change your current lifestyle. Do you sleep badly or do you have an unbalanced diet? Then make sure you start working on that.

We also have some other tips to boost your immune system:

  • Expose your body to exercise and cold
  • Fast regularly for better recovery of your body
  • Stress management

Vitamins for immune system

Do you have your exercise and sleep in order? Then it may be valuable to look at what additional gains you can make with specific vitamins and minerals.

There are several minerals and vitamins for the immune system. These include folate, iron, copper, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin D and zinc. In this section, we highlight some of them.

Benefits of vitamin D(3)

Vitamin D3 positively impacts the immune system and has the most effects of all nutrients. It is good for, among other things:

  • Immune support
  • Brain and nerves
  • Bones and teeth
  • Heart and blood vessels
  • Energy

Vitamin D does not necessarily come from food and is, therefore, not an essential nutrient. Instead, we make our vitamin D when UV-B radiation from the sun hits our skin. In winter in the northern countries, unfortunately, this is impossible; therefore, you can support your vitamin D levels a little during the winter months with a vitamin D supplement.

Advantages of vitamin C

Vitamin C provides extra resistance during physical exertion and helps maintain a good/strong resistance in cold environments. Vitamin C supports the immune system!

Vitamin C foods

You can find vitamin C in many foods, such as:

  • Kiwi
  • Sweet pepper
  • Orange
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Grapefruit
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Tomatoes
  • Spinach

If you don't get enough vitamin C through food, you can take a supplement.

Zinc benefits

Zinc is an essential mineral with antioxidant properties. So as soon as your body fights an infection, it consumes more zinc.

Zinc supplements support the body's defences and help the immune system. However, do not use a high dose of zinc for more than two weeks. A high zinc intake can weaken your immune cells in the long run, so use it only as a temporary remedy.

Vitamin B6

And last but not least: B6. Vitamin B6 contributes to the production of immune cells and positively influences the immune system. In addition, B6 contributes to good resistance. You can get B6 by eating foods like:

  • Ham
  • Tuna
  • Trout
  • Halibut
  • Herring
  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Bananas
  • Nuts
  • Corn and wholemeal bread

You can take a vitamin B6 supplement if you don't get enough through food.

Would you like to know more about the above supplements or order them directly? Then check out our vitamins and minerals page.

Foods that boost immune system

As mentioned earlier, your diet greatly influences your immunity system. You can at least pay attention to the following points:

  • Does it have a lot of nutrients (necessary for good immunity)?
  • Does it contain good fuel (energy from fats or carbohydrates)?
  • Does it include nutrition (fibre or probiotics) for beneficial gut bacteria?
  • Does it support the functioning of your gut?
  • Does it cause inflammation or low energy after a meal?
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