– by Ana-Paula Agrela
How often do you think about your immune system? Probably not as often as you think about how to avoid the various viruses that are around these days. If that’s the case, then it’s time to shift your focus; spending less time thinking about dodging germs and more energy on proactively strengthening your immune system not only helps keep you healthy, it also benefits personal wellness on a larger level. Think of immunity as not just a defense against sickness but that is supports overall health. Strengthening your immune system now can help you stay strong and healthy throughout the harsh winter months and well beyond.
What is an immune system anyway? The human body’s immune system is an intricate network of specialized tissues, organs, cells, and chemicals. The lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, thymus gland, and tonsils all play a role in fighting off germs and illnesses. When the immune system is running well, it keeps an eye out for potential infectious organisms. But, most people don’t think about the immune system until it’s too late, when symptoms have already set in, and then, they often treat with over the counter cough and cold remedies and suffer through until they feel better—and until the next time they come down with another bug, starting the cycle again.
The winter makes things worse, and there’s no definitive reason people sniffle more during winter months. Some experts speculate it’s because we’re spending more time indoors, where we miss out on vitamin D, making us more susceptible to disease. Others say the body uses more energy to stay warm—energy it could otherwise put toward fending off infection.
A better approach than dodging and/or medicating is to treat the immune system as another part of your being—like diet, sleep and exercise—that needs daily attention and care. It needn’t be a chore. The rewards are great and all it takes is a simple shift in focus from “not getting sick” to being as well as you can be.
You might think, given these facts, that you want an immune system that’s ready to mount a defense at the first hint of trouble. And yet, there is such a thing as an overactive immune system. In some cases, the body fails to recognize harmless invaders, such as dust, or your own cells as safe and begins attacking them. The key to healthy immunity, therefore, is a strong immune system that responds appropriately when faced with different challenges in order to keep you healthy.
Thinking of the immune system as a sophisticated machine, it’s not surprising that caring for it involves different steps or lines of defense. This isn’t meant to be more work but instead is an opportunity to support yourself in different ways for maximum benefit. Imagine some kind of screen or shield around your body. First and foremost, it’s important that your shield doesn’t have any holes in it. Your first line of defense between your body and the outside world needs to be strong and intact to keep germs out. The gut comes into play here too; most people don’t realize that around 70 percent of your immune system cells actually reside in the gut. But, no system is perfect, or may wear down due to different causes, and occasionally invaders will get through, so the immune system’s second line of defense is designed to fight those germs that get in. Finally, there are many other lifestyle factors that comprise the final line of immunity defense. These include a healthy diet, supplements, exercise, rest, reduced stress, and prayer.