The immune system is designed to protect the body against bacteria, viruses, parasites etc. However, although it usually prevents disease, sometimes it can cause it. This article explores what we can do to balance it and help it function more effectively.
An overactive immune system can cause several diseases such as allergies, asthma, hay fever and autoimmune disorders, of which there are many. This is characterised by an inflammatory reaction caused by the body’s own immune system attacking itself.
Examples of autoimmune disorders are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, crohn’s disease, thyroid disorders, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, fibromyalgia and inflammatory bowel disease.
Autoimmune disorders are the fourth leading cause of disability in women and about 75% of cases occur in women.
Various possible causes of autoimmune disorders have been postulated and amongst these are stress and diet.
Whilst these chronic conditions will often need medical intervention in the form of ant-inflammatory and steroidal drugs, an individual can also help to regulate her (or his) own immune system by following eight recognised guidelines for good health, namely:
Eating a well-balanced diet. A diet high in fruits and vegetables has many of the phytonutrients critical to enhance the immune system as well as many of the important vitamins and minerals. A steady and balanced intake of essential vitamins and mineral helps to keep our immune systems working properly by providing us with protection from infections and disease. Fish, poultry, lean meat, low-fat dairy products, cereals and legumes (peas, lentils, beans) are all good sources of minerals. Foods such as cheese, eggs or liver, which supply vitamin A, and spinach, sweet potatoes or carrots, which are good sources of beta carotene, should also be eaten daily. Try to ensure that fruit and vegetables in particular are consumed as soon as possible after picking. Research has shown that they start to lose their vitamin content very quickly, and if left too long will have no nutritional value at all. Cooking for too long will also diminish their nutritional content.
Getting plenty of rest to recharge and restore the body and refresh the mind.
Exercising regularly. A low to high intensity workout for 25 to 30 minutes on most days of the week is recommended to build a strong immune system. This does not necessarily mean a trip to the gym. Brisk walking can also be beneficial.
Drinking plenty of water, 6-8 glasses per day, to stay well hydrated and to flush away waste. Water can also act as a lubricant around joints and protect sensitive tissues and organs.
Cutting down on or eliminating alcohol and caffeine which may inhibit the proper functioning of the immune system.
Avoiding the ingestion of pollutants such as cigarette smoke, burnt food, vehicle fumes and other substances and toxins in the environment which can lead to the formation of free radicals in the body, and threaten the effectiveness of the vitamins and minerals in our food.
Eliminating stress. Studies have found that sustained stress lowers the body’s immunity which then leads to illness. A report of 276 volunteers exposed to a common cold virus showed that those who had been under stress for more than a month were most likely to get sick. In another study, children with a history of stress and recurrent colds were found to have lower localized immunity.
Maintaining the body at its optimum weight to give the immune system its best chance of working effectively. In addition, if you are unfortunate enough to have an immune system disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis being overweight puts more strain on already painful joints.
In conclusion, whilst we cannot be sure that we will not suffer from an overactive immune system, there are steps we can take to minimise the effects of autoimmune disorders on our health and lifestyle.