Ins & outs about the immune system

Every year around November, many people start to suffer from runny nose, coughs, sneezing and other symptoms. We also wonder: might I have COVID-19?

Of course you want to avoid all annoying symptoms. In this blog I answer the question: how do you get through this wet autumn and upcoming cold winter as healthily as possible?

Our immune system

Let’s start at the beginning: our immune system. What it’s all about is not getting sick, a cold or even Corona. A toxic substance arrives first at the First Line Defense. Also called the physical barrier such as the skin, mucous membranes (nose, mouth) and respiratory tract. If the toxic substance is strong enough – or our physical barrier is not resilient enough – it penetrates the Second Line Defense. These are the non-specific and specific defenses. The difference between these two is that non-specific is innate. This method of defense can be compared to an ambulance that responds quickly and at all times, regardless of what comes in.

The second specific barrier develops during your lifetime. You can compare this to medical specialists. When they first come into contact with a toxic substance that is still unknown to them, the immune response is somewhat slower. This is because they specialize in one type of pathogen.

The second time these medical specialists encounter the pathogen, they can react much faster. This results in a less severe and/or shorter illness the second time around. It’s not a problem to get sick once or twice a year. If you are sick for 92 hours (3-4 days), it means that your immune system is doing its job properly. The pathogen enters, the ultimate level of inflammation is reached (also known as the eicosanoid switch), and the body neutralizes the virus or bacteria after this switch.

Then, it is eliminated and expelled. Your body cannot recover optimally and respond effectively to a pathogen if, for example, you have a low nutrient status in your body (such as a deficiency in vitamin D or omega-3 fatty acids), you are under a lot of stress, you smoke, or you use painkillers.

Suppressing our immune system

Stress and smoking, for instance, suppress the immune system. Someone who quits smoking or takes a vacation after a stressful period allows the immune system to check off its to-do list because both the stress hormone cortisol and nicotine suppress the immune system. On the other hand, painkillers (such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, aspirin) prevent the eicosanoid switch (the ultimate level of inflammation) from being reached. In this way, the immune response is not fully activated, allowing the infection or virus to persist in the body for longer than the desired 92 hours, resulting in low-grade inflammation.

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Recovery through sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is very important. A good night’s sleep allows your liver to eliminate all the toxic substances that enter your body. This includes things like heavy foods, alcohol, but also exhaust fumes, street dirt, or the body’s own waste, such as hormones that are no longer needed. Your liver has its hands full with this task! If your sleep is consistently less than six hours for an extended period, this essential detoxifying organ cannot do its job properly. This also applies to poor-quality sleep.

If your sleep is not optimal, it’s important to support yourself with good nutrition and potentially supportive supplements. Naturally, reducing the consumption of taxing products like alcohol and smoking is important.

However, the number one priority should be addressing or avoiding chronic stress. A bit of acute stress is fine; our system is well adapted to it. However, chronic stress is something we, as humans, have not (yet) evolved to handle. We only began experiencing chronic stress in the last five percent of the time we’ve been on this planet. Fortunately, you can support your body in becoming more resilient to stress. Think about magnesium, fatty fish, and vitamin D, for instance.

Boost your immune system with these 6 tips

  • Most obvious and crucial: get eight hours of sleep. Now you know why!
  • Consume as few taxing products as possible, such as alcohol, excessive sugars, and processed foods. The less your body has to deal with everything you willingly put into it, the more it can focus on the truly important things: the disease-causing agents.
  • Take as little pain medication as possible and try to keep chronic stress at bay or resolve it. Sometimes, just talking to someone can provide a lot of relief.
  • Support your body with good nutrition: lots of green leafy vegetables, fresh fruit, fatty fish, and plenty of fiber. All these mentioned types of food promote a healthy gut flora. The gut flora is directly connected to your immune system. The stronger your gut flora, the better your immune system.
  • Love garlic? You’ll love this: garlic has anti-inflammatory properties and is used preventively against bacterial and viral infections. However, the smell the next morning can sometimes be less pleasant. A small silver lining: the more you eat, the less you’ll smell it. Let’s go, garlic!
  • Want more resilience against stress? Supplement with more vitamins and minerals. At bbb, we’ve put together a great supplement package to support a healthy immune system during the winter. Contents: vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc.

Love, Bodile 

bbb coach & orthomoleculaire diëtist at Foodstuff 

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