Every day we are being overwhelmed with advice on how to boost our immune system, make it stronger or support it or its activity. Boosting our immune system is supposed to make us healthier, better, happier, more prosperous and longevous. But what does it really mean to boost immunity? Or the immune system? Is there a difference between the two? Is it even possible? If it is, does everybody need to boost their immune system? If we don’t all need to do it, then who does? And lastly, how do you boost immunity?
Do you have to eat certain foods, take special supplements, meditate, become more optimistic? Is there really a recipe for boosting immunity we can all benefit from, or is this a more personal process we have to figure out individually? Complicated, right? What does it mean to boost immunity or the immune system? First of all, boosting immunity is a fairly ambiguous choice of words but, at the same time, very relatable. Most people understand that it’s about improving their immunity, whatever it may imply. Ambiguous, yet catchy and memorable. It’s memorable because everybody knows it or about it, despite not knowing what exactly they are supposed to do to achieve it.
General guidelines tell us it has a lot to do with what we eat, how we live, the amount of stress we are subjected to, pollution, toxins, exercise or lack of it, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, sugar intake, mindset and genes, to name a few. The truth is it does have something to do with all of these things and more. Overall, our health is dictated more or less by every major aspect of our life. Everything we do has an impact and contributes to a certain extent to our wellbeing or ill-being.
For example, toxins from the work environment, pesticides from food, contaminants from water, vitamins from food or supplements, air quality, accessibility to healthcare, emotional health and mindset all elicit a response from our immune system by the impact they have on our health. The things that contribute to our good health are those claimed to boost immunity. Because they either make us or help us stay healthy.
Who needs to boost their immunity? So it’s really possible to boost immunity. However, the sole purpose of boosting one’s immunity is to remain or become healthy. This means that we don’t all need it, just those of use whose immune system is weaker. In reality, our immune system is doing fine when we catch the flu or get a cold. The fact that we battle an influenza virus once a year or a couple of colds doesn’t mean our immune system is not working as it should. It’s actually doing very well. It’s when we get respiratory or other kinds of infections very often or can’t seem to recover from them that our immune system might not be doing very well. This is when it needs a little help, a boost.
A weaker than normal immune system might be pathological or not. It depends on whether it’s weak at times or all the time. For example, a respiratory infection might weaken the immune system temporarily. But it’s also possible to have a weak immune system from the beginning, which would make it easier for bacteria or viruses to attack us and make us sick very often. The second situation is indicative of what is known as immunodeficiency.
Can you boost your immune system too much? In theory, yes. In reality, no. In theory, taking all sorts of so-called immune system boosters can make your immune system work better and better, but there’s actually a limit to that better. It’s not going to become superhuman. So, in reality, taking more vitamin C, sleeping more and doing all those things that make you healthier are going to help your immune system get from doing not so good to doing fine. There’s nothing in our power to make our immune system do more than it’s supposed to. Everything beyond a certain level of normal functioning is overactive. And that isn’t good either. So while you can generally give a helping hand to a weak immune system, you can’t make an immune system that is working optimally get better than that. Because it would mean it would have to become overactive.
An overactive immune system is pathological, abnormal. You can’t drive it to become that way. You are usually born with it like that. A perfect example of an overactive immune system is that of a person suffering from pollen or food allergies. In such cases, the immune system is overly sensitive to harmless things and overreacts when it detects them, resulting in potentially life threatening outcomes such as anaphylactic shock.
Moreover, every single interaction with a harmless substance that makes the immune system overreact causes inflammation in the body (part of the normal immune system response is generating inflammation). Now imagine a superhuman immune system that fights pollen, certain foods, chemicals, dust, mites and other not necessarily disease-causing elements we come into contact with all the time and think of the amount of inflammation generated in the body when dealing with them. It would be too much and cause us to be in ill health. So an overactive immune system is actually a bad thing. Luckily, there really isn’t anything we can do to make an optimally working immune system become overactive.
How to boost immunity and better deal with disease. As explained above, you can only strengthen an immune system that is weak or underactive. And you can’t make an immune system that is functioning normally work better than that. This being said, everything that can help us be healthier physically and mentally is good for our immune system too.
1) Vitamins and minerals. Our physical and mental health is scientifically dependant on meeting our daily intake of all vitamins, dietary minerals and other nutrients. Vitamin A maintains the health of various tissues and immune system organs: our skin and mucous membranes. Research shows immune system cells accumulate vitamin C. Moreover, the nutrient supports and enhances phagocyte and T-cell activity (Vitamin C and immune function). Zinc acts similarly to vitamin C.
B vitamins maintain digestive health, contributing to the health of the lymphatic tissues in the gastrointestinal tract. Zinc, manganese and copper take part in vital enzymatic reactions (superoxide dismutase) and boast strong anti-inflammatory activity. Vitamin D is essential for both innate and adaptive immune response, with receptors for it being present in T cell, B cells etc. Making sure we meet our daily allowance helps the immune system in optimal health.
2) Eating clean and natural. Because pesticides, toxins in general and contaminated food and water make us sick and can overwhelm our immune system. Investing in quality food (organic) is an important step towards an overall better life. Avoiding processed foods by preparing most of our food ourselves, at home, can contribute to our good health as well.
3) Keeping active. Our immune system benefits immensely from moderate exercise such as walking. Neither sedentarism, nor exercising until exhaustion are good however. Exercising outside is best, but should be avoided if you live in a bigger city because of the harmful effects of air pollution.
4) Restful sleep. Getting enough sleep is crucial for a strong immune system and good health. Research suggests that sleep deprivation can impair immune system function, directly affecting various elements of the immune system. Moreover, the lack of sleep has been shown to raise the levels of inflammatory C-reactive proteins, resulting in inflammation and a higher risk for certain diseases.
5) Avoiding high risk factors. Alcohol, coffee (excessively, anyway), cigarettes, pollution, toxins can all negatively impact our health. When consumed excessively or even regularly, they can impair the immune function in a variety of ways. For example, both caffeine and alcohol reduce nutrient absorption, depriving the body of essential nutrients.
6) Mindset. The way we look at life influences our health tremendously. And it’s not only in the form of people miraculously healing themselves of cancer. When we enjoy life and look forward for tomorrow, we are more likely to adopt healthy eating and living behaviours that contribute to better health. A person with a positive mindset will make time to exercise, lose weight, cook better, invest in quality food, cut out unhealthy habits and do all those little things that add up to better health and result in better immunity.
7) Reducing stress. In the simplest of words, stress in unhealthy. Chronic, long-term, constant stress consumes nutrients at a faster rate, putting us at risk for nutritional deficiencies that impact most aspects of our health and various systems. The immune system relies heavily on several essential nutrients and being too stressed for too long can affect it considerably.
Conclusion. Having a strong immune system doesn’t exclude getting sick from time to time. But getting sick often or a lenghty recovery from minor illnesses may indicate a weaker immune system. Approaching certain aspects such as potential nutritional deficiencies, diet, lifestyle, environment, sleep patterns, stress reduction and so on can contribute to better immunity and boost a weak immune system to the point that it works optimally. No measure we might take can push our immune system above a certain standard level of efficacy, which is ideal because an overactive immune system would do more harm than good.