Want To Build Your Immunity? Trust Your Gut
Here’s a simple explanation of how our immunity system works, and some natural ways and means to ensure that it runs in top gear
This pandemic sweeping across the world has led to an intense focus on our body’s immune system,. with everyone wanting to know how they can help build up and strengthen our natural defence mechanism against not just COVID 19, but any other virus that could infect us in the future.
But to do that, we must first understand how our immune system works. Essentially, our immunity system comprises a large network of cells and proteins that protect our body, or the host, fromforeign antigens by creating antibodies that kill unwanted and unrecognized cells. Not only that, it actually records and recognizes alien viruses, bacteria and pathogens that attack the host, and defends us when the same antigen attacks us again. A weak immune system, however, is unable to perform this task effectively, and thus makes us susceptible to various infections and diseases, which in turn requires medication and effective diet plans.
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Interestingly, about 80 per cent of the immune system is present in our gut, and the remaining 20 per cent is spread across other body parts. The lymphatic system present in vertebrates is one of the primary parts of our immune system, and is found in bone marrow and the thymus as well our spleen and lymph nodes. Bone marrow contains stem cells which produce 80-90 per cent of white blood cells (WBC), our first line of defence against infections and disease. The spleen, the largest organ of our lymphatic system, also comprises of WBC (leukocytes) which circulate throughout the lymphatic vessel. These multiply whenever they come in contact with foreign cells and alert other cells by sending signals, and engulfs the alien antigen by its phagocytic property, or the ability to engulf and absorb waste material, harmful microorganisms, or other foreign bodies in the bloodstream and tissues.. Apart from our spleen and bone marrow, WBC is also present in the thymus and lymph nodes. There are five types of WBC in the human body, and they usually comprise 4,000 to 11,000 cells per microliter of blood. Anything lower than that means your immune system is not functioning at optimum capacity.
While there are many medications and pills that promise to help boost your immunity, most of the essential vitamins and minerals required to maintain our immune system are usually found in nature. Our diet therefore, plays a critical role in sustaining and maintaining our immunity. Items like ginger, garlic, turmeric, curd, clove, cinnamon, etc. help us maintain a proper balance of vitamins and minerals in our body and make it stronger. However, a lot depends on how we consume these. Since the major part our immune system is in our stomach, we need to ensure that we don’t upset it while indulging in these natural immunity boosters.
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Curd: Curd is the best food for our gut, it has essential bacteria that helps in digestion, and in losing weight. Daily consumption of curd reduces the risk of heart disease by inhibiting cholesterol level in arteries and also prevents high blood pressure.
Garlic: It eradicates pathogen that inhibits the immune system in our body. Garlic has anti-viral properties and removes unwanted pathogens. Generally we use garlic as one of the ingredients while cooking, but that decreases its benefits. Properties like anti-microbial peptide present in garlic are beneficial only when we consume it raw. Small pieces of raw garlic consumed with water, just like we take medicine, is the best way to get its benefit as it ensures that it reaches the last part of gut before getting fully absorbed in our body, killing gut pathogens. One clove of garlic is enough, and you should be careful if your body starts smelling of garlic, because it means you are overdoing it.
Ginger: Ginger, with its abundance of nutrients, has anti-aging properties and helps rebuild our immune system. Though some of the 63 nutrients recently discovered are still unnamed, they play a vital role in helping us fight infections and disease. The best way to consume it by making it into a soup. Put shredded ginger in water and boil it till the water reduces to half. Daily consumption of ginger soup helps our immune system, kills carcinogenic cells (apoptosis), and helps thin our blood, thus preventing different heart problems, as thin blood carrying oxygen can travel without any blockage to the heart and from heart to various organs.
When a foreign cell or antigen attacks the body the first line defense system is innate immunity, present in external organs like the skin and the mucous membrane of the throat and gut. These tend to weaken with age, and thus need to be strengthened. The best way to improve our innate immunity is to consume food which is rich in Vitamins D and A. Oranges and apricots are the best source of vitamin A, while mango the richest source among fruits. Fatty fish, beef liver, egg yolk are good sources of Vitamin D. Both these vitamins modulate a broad range of our immune process, and help activate lymphocytes that carries WBC and other antibodies. They also It also metabolize responses by preventing and treating inflammation and auto-immunity.
Vitamin C is one of the biggest immune system boosters, as it increases the production of WBCs. Citrus fruits like oranges, Indian gooseberry, lime, lemons, blackcurrants, berries, kiwifruit, guava, broccoli, red, yellow and green capsicum are great sources of Vitamin C. Vitamin C deficiency prevents the work of phagocyte cells. Vitamin C is always backed by Vitamin E, According to National institute of Health vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps fight off infection, is found in spinach, vegetable oils (such as wheat germ, sunflower, safflower, corn, and soybean oil), various nuts (such as almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts,) and sunflower seeds.
Another vitamin, Pyridoxine, or Vitamin B6, helps support the biochemical reaction required in building immune system. This can b found in cold water fish, beef liver oil, egg, meat, soya bean, whole grain cereals, and green veggies contains Vitamin B6 in sufficient amount.
Apart from vitamins, micronutrients like zinc also help boost immunity. One of the biggest anti-virus tools, zinc is present in cashew, almonds, legumes, red meat, some sea foods and various nuts.
Then there’s cloves, which has the highest oxygen radical absorption capacity and pathogen killing capacity among all food items. Put at least two cloves into your tea each morning, and chew them up after you have finished your tea.
Olive leaves have incredible immunity boosting properties. They act as anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-aging agents by reducing the free radicals present in our body. They also help in type II diabetes, lower blood pressure, help in reducing obesity due to the presence Oleuropein. The daily recommended dose ranges from 500 mg to 1,000 mg, and they can can be taken as a soup or in a powdered form.
Turmeric with milk can be used to strengthen our anti-viral defense mechanism, since the fat present in milk helps in absorption of turmeric. One of the bio compounds present in turmeric is curcumin a natural anti-inflammatory compound. It is also a powerful anti-oxidant, and helps boost the functioning of our brain, thereby lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s and depression.
Pregnancy and immunity: Unlike innate immunity, passive immunity passes from mother to child during the first three months of pregnancy through the placenta. During the first three months the fetus cannot produce antibodies, so readymade antibodies are carried by an FcRn receptor from mother to child.
After birth, passive immunity is passed through breast milk, that contains a high amount of Immunoglobin A, and helps in protection against pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections,
allergies, asthma and diarrhea. But passive immunity last for few weeks to four months in the body and is considered as temporary immunity.
Maintaining active immunity is only way to live a healthy and disease free life. Apart from a proper diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, drinking enough water, frequent washing of hands with soap, and avoiding alcohol and smoke and limiting the intake of sugar makes a major difference. These lifestyle changes will ensure that you live a happy, reasonably disease free and active life.
(The author is a Ph.D. Scholar in Extension Education and Communication Management at Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana) .