The immune system – guardian of your health
In the course of a year, the body’s defences are faced with all kinds of challenges: Stress at work and in your private life, fluctuations in physical health and sometimes even illnesses – all of these are hurdles that have to be overcome. The immune system plays a decisive role here: fighting bacteria, viruses and fungi, tackling environmental pollutants and helping to heal wounds.
How does the immune system work?
The immune system is a highly complex and sensitive network that is spread throughout the entire organism and includes the following organs: bone marrow, thymus, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes, special blood cells, etc. It consists of a non-specific part and a specific part which are closely linked in their mode of operation and are mutually supportive. The non-specific mechanisms are the first line of defence and are active from birth. Two key players in the non-specific defence system are the phagocytes and the natural killer cells. If viruses or bacteria manage to enter the body (e.g. through a wound), these defence cells are activated. They identify the germ, absorb the foreign cell and destroy it. Some invaders cannot be identified immediately as dangerous foreign cells because they are cleverly disguised. Specific, acquired defence is then deployed. This is tailored defence which only develops in direct confrontation with certain pathogens. The defence cells in the specific immune system are B and T lymphocytes, for example. B cells can mark germs with special proteins (antibodies), making them identifiable for the phagocytes and the natural killer cells.
Boosting the immune system
The sheer complexity of the tasks performed by the immune system means that a sufficient supply of vitamins and trace elements is imperative. Individual cells in the immune system have to be continually ‘reproduced’. All substances that are needed must therefore be continually ingested in sufficient amounts through food in order to boost the immune system.
Supplying immune-specific micronutrients and fulfilling requirements
Certain diseases can increase the need for vitamins and trace elements. For instance, patients with acute and chronic illnesses frequently require more micronutrients than other people. It is not always possible to meet this need with normal eating habits. Numerous vitamins, trace elements and phytonutrients are vital to ensure that the immune system functions normally.
- Vitamins and trace elements such as vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, copper, folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin B2 and vitamin B12 contribute to normal functioning of the immune system. When the immune system is activated, the immune cells must divide and develop rapidly. Zinc has a role in the process of cell division and vitamin A has a role in the process of cell specialisation. Free radicals can be produced during immune reactions. The antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, and also zinc, selenium, copper and manganese contribute to the protection of the cells against oxidative stress. The mucous membrane in the respiratory tract plays an important role as a barrier against all kinds of germs. Vitamin A, vitamin B2, biotin and niacin contribute to the maintenance of normal mucous membranes.
Tips for the immune system
- Keep moving. Get some exercise! Physical activity mobilises the immune system.
- Fresh air gets you going! Make sure that you go outside for a while every day. Fresh air and exercise improve your circulation and stimulate the immune system.
- Sleep – the key to good health. Getting enough sleep is important as this allows your body enough time to regenerate. In order to sleep well and ‘drop off’ quickly, it is advisable to reduce stress before going to bed – for example, by taking a relaxing bath (not too hot) or by reading a good book.