Everyday, the immune system defends us against disease causing microorganisms, as well as protecting us from anomalies in the cellular system that may develop into cancerous growths. When the immune system works at its optimum level, the health is good. Sometimes the immune system fails, and one feels below par and constantly unwell. When immunity is compromised, it leaves the body defenceless and vulnerable to disease. The fact is that there are germs everywhere. It is very important to nurture and enhance one’s own internal resistance to disease, so that the microbes and viruses do not get a foothold.
A healthy immune system forms the basis of our well being, so it is important to make it more efficient by avoiding anything that might compromise or weaken it. This is fundamental to good health. First let us look at the factors that cause immunity to be compromised. It is mostly ascribed to the type of lifestyles we live. Diet, stress and medicines can cause an imbalance in our system by suppressing the immune response.
Diets that are high in fat, sugar, processed food and low in fresh food, fibre and essential nutrients lead to a weak immune system. Like any fighting force, the immune system needs good, regular nourishment. This could be one of the reasons that people who live in poverty and are malnourished are more vulnerable to infectious diseases.
Stress is another cause of low immunity. Chronic stress causes the adrenal glands to secrete higher levels of corticosteroids, which depress immune function. Research suggests that psychological stress affects the immune system by disrupting communication between the nervous system, the endocrine (hormonal) system, and the immune system.
Environmental pollutants in the form of radiation from mobile phones, television, microwaves and computers; chemicals from exhaust fumes, pesticides, herbicides, smoke, air fresheners and detergents; and pollutants from house dust, dust mites and mould can also cause a weak immune system.
The medications that we take when we are sick also causes imbalances in our immune system. Over use of antibiotics can cause suppression of normal immune system responses.
How to Boost Immunity?
What we eat has the power, both to harm and heal. We are what we eat and hence the efficiency of the body’s operations depend on whether the food we take in is appropriate or not. We can start by making changes to the diet we eat.
Diet: Reduce the intake of simple sugars, alcohol, saturated and harmful fats, and cut out on smoking and drug use. Diet should be natural, unprocessed and whole. Increase the intake of whole grain, legumes, fresh fruits, vegetables and drink plenty of water. Eat all colours (red, orange and yellow, white, green, blue and purple) of vegetables and fruits. Each coloured fruit and vegetable has unique health benefits that are necessary for our health. Malnourished individuals are more susceptible to disease as opposed to those who observe a healthy nutritious diet. The Harvard Health site says that “there is some evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies — for example, deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E — alter immune responses in animals, as measured in the test tube.”
One must also get enough rest and relaxation, quality sleep, and moderate exercise. Lack of sleep seems to impair the healthy functioning of the immune system. Exercise contributes to general good health and enhances the functioning of the immune system. Research has shown that people who exercise regularly are less likely to get colds than those who are not active. Exercise may sometimes contribute more directly by promoting good circulation, thus allowing the components of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.
Natural Remedies For Optmizing Immune Activity:
Herbs like Echinacea, astralagus, licorice, ginseng, ginger and garlic are very effective remedies to boost the immune system. Garlic, ginger and onion are all immune supportive as well as warming. When used together, they provide powerful immune support than when used on their own. Herbs that support, strengthen or enhance components of the immune system are called immune stimulants. Herbs that increase general immunity are the most valued herbs in traditional healing systems, because when general immune functions become stronger and more efficient, we are generally more resistant to diseases. Ayurveda suggests the following home remedies to boost immunity.
In ayurveda, the most important herbs to boost immunity are Amla, Ashwagandha, Turmeric, Guduchi, Neem and Holy basil. Amla is a great liver toxifier and an anti-oxidant. Ashwagandha has a tonifying effect on the whole hormone system and it reduces stress. It is said to stimulate host defence. Turmeric as we all know is a very effective natural remedy as it is anti-inflammatory. Excessive inflammation causes tissue damage and depletion of the immune system. Curcumin, the compound in turmeric is recognized for controlling inflammation without the risk of toxicity.
Guduchi is a versatile herb which supports immune and liver function. Research indicates that Guduchi produces its anti-inflammatory effect through blocking the effect of inflammatory signals, thus controlling non-specific allergic reactivity and reducing the burden on the immune system. Neem is an anti-microbial herb of the Ayurvedic tradition. Medicinal compounds found in neem oil and leaves stimulate various immune cells to act against pathogens. Studies on the properties of neem have shown that it is toxic against a variety of fungus, bacteria, and viruses.
Holy Basil, is another herb that is a great immune booster. It is rich in essential oils that have a beneficial effect on the nervous system, immune system and the antioxidant system. The herb is known to have anti-stress effect in animal studies. Holy basil helps to replenish anti-oxidant enzymes in the body, while also controlling inflammation.
There are other ways to boost your immune system.
- Drink a glass of lemon juice every morning. This is a perfect way to boost digestion and immunity at the same time.
- The immune system is strongest in an alkaline environment. Drinking plenty of water will boost the alkalinity and thus the immunity.
- Eat one cup of yogurt every day. Yogurt contains probiotics – bacteria that stimulates immunity cells in the GI tract.
- Eat both – cooked food and raw food. Overcooked food diminishes the amount of immune boosting nutrients.
- Have more Omega 3s by eating oily fish at least once a week. Flaxseed oil also contain Omega 3s, which is a good choice for vegetarians.
As an article in ayurvedicscience.com says, “It is very clear that balanced immune system is required for optimal health. Immune system cannot be balanced with a pill, herb, vitamin, drug or vaccine. Immune system can only be balanced with good and balanced nutrition, exercise, yoga, meditation, herbal and mineral support, along with creating balance at mental, emotional and spiritual levels.”