Immunity has become a marketing buzzword, especially since we have been hit by the Coronavirus. Vulnerable people are advised to build their immunity to prevent infections. Many products are available that claim to help build immunity. Generic products, multivitamin tablets, traditional therapy supplements, and even the kadha made at home are said to help build our immunity. So, do these products help? Are senior citizens more vulnerable and is immunity linked to aging? Many of you may have been wondering about these. Let’s take a look at some of the answers that can help us know what all this is about.
In layman’s terms, immunity is our body’s ability to fight against any form of pathogens. So, it is our defence system that becomes active when an attack is sensed. Pathogens are anything foreign like viruses, bacteria, and other disease-causing substances. The pathogens come attached with antigens and hence, stimulate a response from our body’s immune system.
Every individual is born with an innate immunity; an infant gets it from the breastmilk of the mother. This is why mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their babies in the early months. It helps build immunity in the infant’s body. Apart from this, our body fights pathogens with responses like inflammation, fever, etc. which signal to us about the body is under a pathogen attack. The body also develops acquired immunity when it is exposed to a pathogen, either naturally, or in the form of a vaccine.
Age and immunity
When we age, we catch infections faster and also take longer to recover than when we were younger. This, perhaps, is the most obvious link between immunity and age. It means as we age, the body’s immune system also weakens. This has been an interesting topic for our scientists who are still trying to understand why it happens. So far, what is understood is that vaccines don’t work as well in aged people as it does in the young. This is one of the reasons why the seniors were requested to be careful about exposure to the Coronavirus.
Sadly, despite the advances in medical technology, there is no test to diagnose the level of immunity in the body. However, what is understood is that some aged people do have remarkable immunity levels. Therefore, there are some things, if done right, that can perhaps help keep up the immunity levels.
Environmental toxins such as air and water pollution, etc. can weaken our body’s immune system. Certain chronic and autoimmune diseases also impair our body’s natural immune response.
How to maintain immunity?
Some habits, if cultivated early on, can help us maintain good levels of immunity. Most of these are generally healthy habits that we are supposed to follow anyway. Let’s see what helps us with our immunity.
- Nutrient-rich diet – A well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet that caters to our body’s needs can help us maintain our natural immunity levels. The various Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc. play a vital role in maintaining the immune system. Include a variety of fresh fruits, veggies, seafood, nuts and seeds, healthy spices, etc. in the everyday diet. Gut health is also an important aspect of maintaining our immunity. Apart from the above-mentioned, some fermented foods help maintain the gut microbiomes linked to immunity. Science says that no supplements claiming to be immunity-boosters help in reality.
- Sleep well – Good sleep is essential for maintaining the body’s immunity levels. Scientific evidence supports the theory that improper sleep weakens the immune system. This is true for people of all ages, and not just seniors. Our immune system releases proteins called cytokines during our sleep, some of which even help us sleep better. Cytokines help fight infections or inflammations and we may need more of them at such times. Having less sleep may decrease cytokine production. Also, antibodies tend to reduce when we don’t get enough sleep. Thus, a good sleep of 7-8 hours a day, helps maintain our immune system and weakens systematically otherwise.
- Stress reduction – Of course, stress reduction mechanisms are a must to live a happy, healthy, and long life. Stress affects sleep and causes many other issues. Many cascading effects of stress can be avoided by adopting some simple techniques like meditation, yoga, delightful hobbies, and more.
- Exercise – Regular exercise is a must to keep your immunity levels good. Research says when you are active, the body can detect and respond to infections faster as the immune system is also active. At least 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity is suggested for a week to maintain a good immune system. Spending some time outside can also help maintain the Vitamin D levels in the body, which in turn, helps fight infections.
- Be health conscious – Being health-conscious means apart from diet, exercise, etc., you also ensure that you get timely check-ups done. You also don’t skip any vaccines like the flu or coronavirus vaccine, if recommended. It also means that you avoid sick people so as not to test your immune system unnecessarily. Maintaining proper hygiene like washing hands regularly and even wearing a mask is a good practice.
- Quit harmful habits – It is best to quit smoking to ensure that you keep some diseases away. There is scientific evidence that proves that smoking brings down immunity levels. Even drinking should be quit or moderated as per discussions with your doctor.
So far, there is no scientific evidence that promotes the cause of immunity-boosters and supplements. Hence, it is best to keep away from these unless a qualified doctor has prescribed them. The truth is innate immunity can never be boosted and if it is, it may cause harm. It has to be natural. All factors mentioned above only help us to maintain our immunity system.