immune system

what is the immune system

The immune system helps to protect our body against outside invaders. It is designed to protect against foreign agents such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and poisonous substances. Our body is often exposed to toxic and foreign substances such as exhaust fumes, alcohol, chemical substances from plastic, clothes or make-up or smoke.

The skin, intestines, airways, blood and the lymph system are all part of the immune system and work closely together. The immune system is made up of three defence mechanisms.

  • The physical barrier
  • the a-specific barrier
  • the specific barrier

The physical barrier
The skin is an important organ which functions as the first barrier. The skin kan allow substances to enter the body but can also allow substances to be released from the body, for example sweat. Mucus membranes in the intestines and airways also play a protective role. Just like the skin, these single cell layers allow substances to enter but also keep substances out – if everything works as it should. Stomach acid, saliva and moisture in the eyes are also crucial in the immune system. Everything that has a goal to keep infectious agents outside the body.

If these non-desirable substances do break through the physical barrier, then it’s time for the specific and a-specific barrier to come into action.

A-specific defence system
The a-specific defence system focuses not on one specific infection but on all foreign substances that are found in the body. This defence system comes with birth. White blood cells play a large role in this defence system. They form a barrier that makes no distinction between intruders meaning that they can react very quickly. They are like a vacumecleaner that consume bacterias, foreign cells and damaged and dead cells. They can release enzymes that help to kill and devour the substances.

When there is a shortage of vitamin D (end of winter), fatty acids (EPA en DHA) and when one smokes, this defence system comes into difficulty. Smoking suppresses the immune system resulting in it not being able to work optimely. Pain killers or chronic stress can also lead to problems. Cortisol is a hormone that inhibits the immune system. Pain killers (such as paracetemol and ibuprofen) ensure that the eicosanide switch cannot occur. This means that the infection must reach the highest degree before it can be cured. Pain killers ensure that the recovery period is longer than the preferred 92 hours (3/4 days).

Specific defence system
This defence system continues to develop throughout your life. It is also referred to as the acquired system. It continuously focuses on one certain disease agent and in which specialised defence cells are used. Due to this, this sort of defence has a slow reaction. The benefit is that this system has memory cells which means that the next time it comes into contact with the same disease, the defense reaction is much quicker. Take for example a vaccination. Contact with a small amount of the disease is necesary so that the body can create antibodies.

Your defence system changes your whole life. As you get older, it becomes less effective. The body becomes less able to distinguish own body substances from foreign substances. The ‘vacumecleaners’ start to work slower and an older body is less able to react to new disease agents. This is why the elderly are more susceptible to a virus such as COVID-19.

After a period of sickness, the immune system is weak and therefore more susceptible to new infections and other dangerous substances for the body. This is also true for younger people. The reason for this is that the body (organ and tissues) needs to restock its energy supply. But also, the ‘rubbish’ from the sickness has to be dispensed to avoid auto-immune diseases. Otherwise the immune system would attack the ‘rubbish’ again. In short, the body needs to restock nutrients and energy from healthy foods.

Detoxing
By ‘detoxing’ we mean ‘resetting’ your body. Natural and nutritious food and drinks are very important:

  • water and tea – green/black tea in moderation

Omega-3 fatty acids
To lessen inflammations. In comparison we eat 15 times as much omega-6 fatty acids because we are now consuming more vegetable based fats. But the balance is now uneven. Too many omega-6 fatty acids blocks the work of omega-3 fatty acids, meaning that inflammations cannot be ‘turned off’. This results in low-grade inflammations.

Research has shown that it is hard to reach the ADA, 200mg omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) per day. For pregnant or breast feeding women, children under 2 years of age, elderly and people who generally don’t eat fish there is a greater chance of shortage. For these groups it is advisable to take a supplement. This could be krill or algae oil.

Proteins
These have many functions. The most important is the build up or repair of tissue after a training, sickness or injury. The recommended daily average is at least 1 gram of protein per kilo of body weight; for example if you weigh 65 kg then you would require at least 65 grams protein per day. Protein can be found in animal and vegetable sources. Animal sources are meat, fish, crustaceans and shellfish and dairy. Vegetable sources are legumes such as beans and lentils and also soya. Legumes in combination with wholemeal grain products ensures that the protein is better absorbed into the body. Finally, protein also results in one feeling more satisfied after eating which can help to avoid over eating.

Real carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are an important energy source for those who train and sport. In our society we eat too much white or refined carbohydrates. For example a sandwich with hagelslag or white pasta, rice and potatoes.

By ‘real’ carbohydrates we mean wholemeal grain products, (sweet) potatoes, vegetables and fruit. These products all contain fibre. This way the carbohydrates are slowly absorbed by the body. This results in a slower increase in the blood sugar levels. Resulting in a slower dropping of the levels. This prevents that hazy, dizzy feeling.

These carbohydrates are also better for the intestinal flora and health. Which has an immediate effect on our immune system and general state of mind. This also results in a good communication between our intestines and brain.

Nuts, seeds and pits
These are important for the good fats (omega-9), vitamin E, zinc and, once more, fibres. They are also a good snack or use to add some variety to a meal. For example Brazil nuts – 3 a day and you have consumed your daily dose of selenium or walnuts with ALA-fats (of EPA and DHA). These are good for the brain. So use them as variety!

Unlimited vegetables
Lots of daily variety results in colour on your plate and ensures that you consume a large and diverse scale of vitamins and minerals daily. They also don’t contain a lot of calories and result in a satisfied feeling. The preferance goes to fresh vegetables. Steam or grill them. Be careful, tinned vegetables contain a lot of salt. Frozen vegetables are a good alternative to fresh as the vitamins are retained.

Dried fruit
Eat in moderation (unsulphured) – for iron, fibre and a sweet moment. Be careful, they contain a lot of calories and are high in sugar. You can easily eat too much and don’t realise until later when they expand in your stomach as they absorb fluid. Tip: soak them first in water or finely chop them and sprinkle through a salad.

Herbs & Spices
Since the beginning of mankind we have used herbs and spices. You give a meal a desired taste or enrich your tea. Herbs and spices are also good for our immune system. Below is a list of herbs that stimulate our immune system.

  • Cinnamon helps to stabilise the blood sugar levels and helps with kidney problems, colds and bad breath.
  • Kurkuma has an anti-inflammatory effect in the case of chronic sicknesses and disorders such as asthma, rheuma, diabetes type 1. It also helps with intestinal infections, healing of wounds, high cholesterol and also stabilises the blood sugar levels.
  • Saffron contains antioxidant properties, helps the general feeling of wellbeing by reabsorbing serontine, supports the retina and helps to encourage weight loss due to a reduced craving for sweet.
  • Ginger has plenty of effects. These are the most important: helps with headaches, muscle pain, flu, stomach complaints, colds and feeling queasy (car sickness). This is due to ginger encouraging a better absorption of other vitamins and minerals (up to 200%), it protects the stomach and intestinal linings , has a anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-parasitic working, possesses anti-inflammatory and pain killing properties and functions as an antioxidant.

What shouldn’t you eat or drink?

  • Alcohol
    This puts pressure on the liver and which causes physical stress. It also contains a lot of sugars which can have a negative effect on the blood sugar levels and empty calories.
  • Added sugars
    There are always good and bad intestinal bacterias present in the intestines. The goal is to ensure that the good bacterias reign. Too many sugars encourage the growth of bad intestinal bacterias. This has an effect on our intestinal health and our immune system. Too many added sugars also result in changing blood sugar levels. This is not only bad for your general feeling of well being but also for your insuline vulnerability. The less insuline sensitive you are, the harder it is to know if you are really hungry or full. This can result in overeating or always feeling as if you are hungry. This is due to your body being unable to absorb the energy from the correct foods and as a result you feel lethargic (yawning, dizzy, hazy or shaking).
  • Coffee
    Coffee increases the adrenaline level in your body (stress hormone). As a result you can feel on edge and restless. If you are high in your stress then it is advisable not to drink too much coffee. A maximum of two cups a day (preferably in the morning) is fine.
  • Refined carbohydrates
    For example white pasta, white rice or bread. These deliver empty calories and hardly contain any valuable nutrients. They also hardly contain any fibre, which can result in overeating.
  • Fried products
    PAK’s can develop in fried products. These are carcinogenic substances that develop when food is heated at (too) high temperatures. These products also often contain many unnatural ingredients and lots of fats.
  • Gluten and dairy
    These can cause inflammatory reactions in the small intestine. Gluten and caseïne (dairy) open the ‘gates’ of the intestines resulting in damage to the intestines and harmful substances can enter the blood flow. As a result the immune system becomes (over) active resulting in, for example, low-grade infections, physical stress, low feelings, allergies, intolerences, wounds that don’t heal well and bruises that also won’t heal. They can also be the cause of a hormonal disbalance. Due to the inflammatory working of the body and the hormone in the product itself.
  • Soya
    Soya contains phytoestrogen. In it’s structure, is like our own oestrogen. The phyto variant can activate our oestrogen receptors. Phytoestrogen, though, is much heavier. If you eat it every day, your oestrogen levels can go up. Around your ovulation (week 2 of your cycle) your oestrogen level is quite high. Try not to consume too much soya at this time. A maximum of 1 portion 3-4 times a week is fine.
  • Trans-fatty acids
    Our body doesn’t recognise these. It looks like fat but it isn’t. It is a by product that occurs during the processing of unsaturated fats (like out of cookies, cake, margarines, deep frying oils). This ‘fat’ encourages inflammations, raises our insuline level, increases our LDL cholesterol, slows down the working of omega-3 fatty acids and some hormones.

Lifestyle

Moving soberly
This is important so as to become/remain insuline sensitive. By being insuline sensitive you are more aware if you are hungry and full, can sometimes skip a meal, you aren’t constantly hungry and avoid overeating, can fight against insuline resistance (pre-diabetes) and your body is able to clean up toxic substances easier.

Cold showers
Standing under a cold shower for one minute doesn’t sound pleasurable but what if it is good for us? It lowers our adrenaline and makes us more receptive to cortisol. For as long as we have existed we have been aware of acute stress (cold, warm, hunger, thirst, not sleeping, Wim Hof breathing techniques). Our system is programmed for this. By applying an acute stress trigger, our body solves this which lowers the chronic stress. It is also good for the blood circulation in our body, helps to remove waste products and gives the immune system a boost.

Exercising
It is well known that exercise is good for us. But why? Exercising stabilizes our blood sugar levels, improves our mood, is good for our blood circulation, condition, muscle build up, lowers stress levels, lowers low grade infections, stimulates the metabolism and encourages a vital and energetic feeling. Exercise is useful in preventing (a-fluent) sicknesses and helps prevent aging. The more muscles you have, the younger your body thinks it is.

Of importance is that you choose a sport you enjoy. If you start on a sport that you really don’t like, it can end up giving you stress instead.

For (almost) everyone the rule is, exercise (intensively) no longer than 45 minutes. You could try a HIIT training of 30 minutes or a strength training of 45 minutes. This maximum limit exists because after 45-60 minutes the body goes into a fight-flight modus. In this case the adrenaline production is increased and the body finds it more difficult to go back to a rest mode. If you train for longer than 60 minutes you can literally ‘run past’ the relaxed effect your looking for.

In short, people are geared towards short and intensive training. Listen to your body and allow it rest if it needs it and try to exercise 1-2 times a day for 30 minutes.

Bio-rhythm
Follow your bio-rhythm. If you feel that you are more productive in the mornings than the evenings then make use of this! The same applies to evening people. Use your energy in the most constructive manner by listening to your body.

Tips for morning people:

  • Perform your most important tasks in the morning.
  • Perform less tricky ‘brain tasks’ after lunch, for example, checking your emails.
  • Eat a large breakfast, good lunch and eat a light meal for dinner.
  • Exercise from two hours after waking up until before your evening meal.

Tips for evening people:

  • Perform your less tricky tasks in the morning so that you can slowly start up.
  • If you are at your best after lunch, use this time to deal with more important tasks.
  • Breakfast is possibly not necessary for you. If you don’t really enjoy breakfast then it is not a must for you. It’s fine to start eating later in the day. A light breakfast is also a fine choice for you. Eat a healthy lunch and a balanced dinner.
  • Exercise around the end of the afternoon or the beginning of the evening.

The more you can listen to and follow your rhythm, the more energetic you will feel!

Sleep
In the night our body has the chance to recover. 8-9 hours sleep is ideal. Our immune system is (mainly) active during the night as it requires a lot of energy. If it was also (over) active during the day, then you wouldn’t have enough energy left over to perform your daily tasks. Like work and exercise. Think back to times when you have been sick. Then your immune system is hard at work during the day resulting in you feeling weak and lethargic.

Sleep is, therefore, very important for our immune system. It allows it to do its work. Think of the recovery of our muscles after a work out, cleaning up and getting rid of old and incorrect cells, dealing with toxic substances, handling impressions and triggers and things we have learnt are recorded and stored in the long term memory.