8 good tips for strengthening the immune system

The winter time is a test of our immune system. Cold viruses are lurking everywhere and want to paralyze our natural defense mechanism. Our immune system must therefore be well prepared. But how can the defenses be strengthened? We present 8 good and simple tips.

Why is the immune system important?

The immune system is our body's own defence mechanism, which is made up of a complex network of organs and tissues. The most important organs include the thymus, bone marrow, lymphatic system, spleen, intestine, mucous membranes, skin and special immune cells. If all organs and tissues are healthy and function smoothly, the immune system works without failures. We are rarely ill and feel fit and vital.

Our immune system must protect us continuously, because we are constantly surrounded by pathogens, be they viruses, fungi or bacteria. They constantly try to penetrate our defence system and cause damage. Pathogens that have made it into our bodies first hit the front line: the non-specific defence system that is innate to all of us. It strikes immediately and can destroy pathogens within a few hours.

In the second step, the specific defence is activated, which is directed specifically against the pathogen causing the infection. For this reason, it takes longer than the unspecific immune system. It works with special defence substances, the antibodies, and produces precisely tailored substances that immobilise the pathogen.[1]

Signs of a weakened immune system

Various factors can contribute to our immune system becoming unstable and more vulnerable to viruses, fungi and other pathogens. Stress, lack of sleep and an unbalanced diet play a major role in this. They put an additional strain on our immune system and in doing so, weaken our defences. While we sleep, information about germs collected during the day is stored in the immune system's long-term memory.

Poor nutrition can also weaken the immune system. For example, saturated fats promote inflammatory processes and can hinder the fight against real pathogens. Unhealthy food also leads to supply deficits in the organism, which puts a permanent strain on the immune system.

How do I strengthen the immune system?

Fortunately, every person can contribute to strengthening their immune system themselves. Most tips are easy to implement. Read here how to support your immune system!

Strengthen your immune system with colourful vegetables

Tip 1: Get more sleep

Sleep is the best medicine. A group of researchers led by Tanja Lange from the University of Lübeck did a study on how sleep affects the immune system. The researchers were able to prove that the hormone constellation during sleep promotes the development of the (acquired) immune system and immune memory. The night-time rest therefore supports the work of certain defence mechanisms, with the help of which our immune system builds up a protective barrier against pathogens. How much sleep a person needs depends on various factors. Find out your optimal sleep duration and sleep healthy!

Tip 2: Less stress

Prolonged stress can severely affect our immune system and weaken the non-specific (innate) as well as specific immune defences. The immune system produces fewer immune cells and can hardly defend itself against pathogens. Yoga or meditation should bring relief from long-term stress. Just try it out!

Tip 3: More exercise

Best in the fresh air. During physical exertion a lot of adrenalin is produced. The hormone causes the immune cells to multiply faster. People who exercise regularly are therefore less likely to be ill. In addition, during exercise hormones like endorphins and serotonin are produced, which neutralise stress hormones. This reduces stress. Spend your next evening in the fresh air, your immune system will thank you for it!

Tip 4: Balanced diet

A well-functioning immune system needs many different vitamins and nutrients. These include vitamins A, B, C, D, E. The nutrients the body needs are zinc, iron, copper, selenium. Most of these substances can be taken in through food. Broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, spinach, garlic, citrus fruits, nuts, carrots, turmeric are particularly good. The rule of thumb is: eat colourful and seasonal food. Asparagus in spring, melon in summer, pumpkin in autumn.

Tip 5: B-group vitamins

B6 balances the specific immune defences and is found in meat and fish products and vegetables. B12 is responsible for blood formation and normal functioning of the immune system and is only found in foods of animal origin, meat, dairy products and fish.

Tip 6: Secondary plant substances

According to current knowledge, they are not among the essential nutrients for humans. Nevertheless, they are said to have various health-promoting effects, even reducing the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. They are found mainly in fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts, wholemeal products and potatoes. For this reason, the German Society for Nutrition recommends eating lots of fruit and vegetables. Carotenoids, flavonoids, glucosinolates, phytoestrogens, saponins and sulphides can be found in the following vegetables and fruits carrot, pumpkin, paprika, apple, kale, pear, onion, garlic, etc.

Tip 7: Other natural substances

Like propolis[2], Echinacea[3], glycosinolates[4], sulphides[5] or flavonoids[6] are also extremely important for strengthening the immune system. Studies also show the antiviral potential of these substances.

Tip 8: Food supplements

People who do not eat enough fruit and vegetables may be deficient in nutrients. For them, it might make sense to take food supplements to strengthen their immune system.

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[1] https://www.gesundheitsinformation.de/das-angeborene-und-das-erworbene-immunsystem.2255.de.html, aufgerufen am 30.10.2020. 

[2] Berretta et al. Propolis and its potential against SARS-CoV-2 infection mechanisms and COVID-19 disease. Biomed Pharmacoth 2020;131:110622

[3] Signer et al. In Vitro virucidal activity of Echinaforce, an Echinacea purpurea, against coronavirus, including common cold coronavirus 229E and SARS-CoV-2. Virol J 2020;17:136

[4] Ivanciuc et al. Hydrogen Sulfide Is an Antiviral and Antiinflammatory Endogenous Gasotrans-mitter in the Airways Role in Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection. American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology. Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol 2017;57(4): 403–410.

[5]Nie et al. Antiviral activity of Isatidis Radix derived glucosinolate isomers and their products against influenza A in vitro/ovo and mechanism of action. J Ethnopharmacol 2020;251:2-8

[6] Melrose J. The Glucosinolates: A Sulphur Glucoside Family of Mustard Anti-Tumour and Anti-microbial Phytochemicals of Potential Therapeutic Application. Biomedicines 2019; 7:62:1-28

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