How many sick days have you taken this year? When your body is weak, it can affect your daily life in many ways.
You are more prone to infections and illnesses, and often fall sick – at times missing out on important days.
Basically, how strong or weak your body is depends solely on the state of your immune system.
It is the body’s first line of defence, composed of billions of white blood cells that constantly patrol the body to identify, engulf and destroy pathogens (any organism capable of causing disease, e.g. bacteria, viruses and fungi).
Every day you inhale millions of germs that are floating in the air, excluding the millions more already in your body.
If your immune system is strong, it deals with them without a problem. Occasionally, however, a germ or virus gets past the immune system and you will fall sick.
If you have been feeling under the weather lately, it could be due to nutritional deficiencies, poor lifestyle habits and/or exposure to unhealthy environments full of toxins and pollutants.
All this can lead to poor immune health, which ultimately results in succumbing to diseases such as the flu.
What is the flu?
The flu is a type of upper respiratory tract infection (URTI). This is a contagious infection in the upper respiratory tract that includes the nose, throat, pharynx, larynx and bronchi.
All types of flu are caused by influenza viruses that are easily transmitted, hence boosting the immune system is the key to fighting this infectious disease.
Common indications of the flu include:
• Runny nose or nasal congestion
• Sore throat
• Painful joints and/or body aches
Having a runny nose, sneezing and coughing can be irritating as you’re constantly reaching for a tissue, while sore throats, nasal congestion and headaches can end up being quite painful.
Worst of all, high fever, fatigue, as well as painful joints and aches all over, can weaken your body and prevent you from going to work or school.
If you have any of these symptoms, immediately seek medical attention and take precautions to avoid spreading the infection.
Those who are most at risk of catching the flu include:
• Adults over the age of 50
• Those who work in stressful environments
• Frequent travellers, especially by air and rail
• Teachers and students in crowded school environments
• Medical professionals and patients in hospitals and clinics
• People who frequently fall sick
• Anyone with poor dietary habits
Protecting against infection
There are many simple ways to strengthen the immune system to protect against germs, infections and illnesses.
• Practise good hygiene
Wash your hands with the right techniques and be sure to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Wear a facemask if you are sick.
• Sleep well
It is imperative that your body gets sufficient rest in order to be strong and recover fast from fatigue and sickness.
Lack of sleep increases stress levels and reduces the body’s immunity. Try to get around seven to eight hours of quality sleep every night.
• Exercise regularly
Just 30 minutes a day at least five times a week can help to strengthen the body and reduce stress, which in turn boosts the immune system.
The positive effect of exercise on your mood can also lower stress levels. You can expect to sleep better at night as well.
• Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
Aim for as many varieties as possible in all colours. A balanced diet will help ensure you obtain a good mix of vitamins and minerals.
Food rich in antioxidants support the immune system too.
• Drink lots of water
Staying hydrated is essential to support proper function of the body’s immune system. It also helps to flush out toxins that can make you sick.
Reducing your alcohol intake is equally important.
• Supplement your diet with immune-boosting nutrients
There are many supplements on the market said to be good for the immune system, such as vitamin C, garlic, fish oil, cod liver oil, echinacea, zinc and whole glucan particle (WGP) beta glucan.
Optimising the immune system
WGP beta glucan is derived from the cell walls of baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae).
Research shows that it stimulates the body’s immune cells to attack, ingest and destroy the pathogens that cause diseases.
Our immune cells consist of macrophages, neutrophils and natural killer cells, which work together to defend our body against pathogens.
WGP beta glucan has the ability to speed up the body’s immune response by stimulating neutrophils, which can then immediately move to the site of infection.
It also increases the killing capa-city of macrophages and natural killer cells, which means they can now destroy even more foreign particles or cancer cells.
Similarly increased is the communication between immune cells, alerting them that foreign intruders or cancer cells are present so that they can fight the invasion.
WGP beta glucan also stimulates the production of antibodies, which help the other immune cells identify foreign cells to kill them.
In addition, it helps protect against harmful free radical dama-ge to the body’s cells, tissues and organs.
Those recommended to take the supplement are senior citizens whose immune systems might be slowing down due to age, those who work out intensively and those who are chronically stressed.
In a 2008 study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, University of Montana researchers in the United States found that their local wildland firefighters – who combat wildfires and prevent new ones from starting – benefited from taking WGP beta glucan.
The study reported that the firefighters had a 23% reduction in URTI symptoms and improved overall physical health.
This is especially significant considering that they are constantly exposed to dangerous hazards, fire, smoke, fatigue, stress and poor nutrition – all of which weaken the immune system.