If you’re wondering how to support immune system health, you first need to understand how the immune system works.
To help, here’s 10 interesting facts about the immune system based on the latest research plus insights from GP, Dr Jill Gamberg.
Fact 1: There’s no single solution
The immune system is incredibly complex. To simplify the path to strong immune health down to a single solution simply isn’t possible.
Dr Jill says that taking vitamins for immune system health is certainly beneficial if you have a diagnosed deficiency or your dietary intake is inadequate.
But also being aware of what affects your immune system and making choices that will support good immune health.
Fact 2: Your immune system needs sleep
Sleep is one of those things you know you need more of, but actually getting more of it is easier said than done.
It’s thought that the immune system and sleep may be bi-directionally related. This means a healthy immune system can aid sleep and good sleep can aid the immune system.
Dr Jill says that getting a good night’s sleep may be one of the best things you can do to build and maintain good immune health.
It’s thought that the immune system and sleep may be bidirectionally related.
Fact 3: The immune system is complex and interactive interesting
While you may picture your immune system as a neat little bundle of germ-fighting heroes, the reality is that your immune system is highly complex. There are multiple working parts that all have a different role to play in defending you against unwanted germ invasions.
Have you heard the terms innate and adaptive immune system? The innate immune system is the one you’re born with. It’s your first line of defence against germs (microbes - including viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites etc).
The innate immune system is non-specific, It includes:
- physical barriers, such as skin and hair
- defence mechanisms in your mucus, saliva and tears
- general inflammatory response to send immune cells to an area of concern.
If the innate immune system is unable to prevent a virus or infection from taking hold in your body, your adaptive immune system takes over to fight the germs directly.
On the other hand, the adaptive immune system is highly specific. It is activated by exposure to germs.
The adaptive immune system is slower to respond than the innate immune system, but it never forgets a germ! This is called immunological memory and is how your immune system learns about a threat to enhance the immune response accordingly.
This part of your immune system is also the one that creates antibodies to help your body recognise a pathogen or germ next time it attempts an invasion.
Babies are born with an (immature) innate immune system and passive immunity.
Fact 4: You’re born with an immune system
How important is the immune system? So important that babies are born with one.
Specifically, they are born with an (immature) innate immune system and passive immunity where the mother has passed on antibodies through the placenta and breast milk.
Their immune system matures over time as the body also develops the adaptive immune system. Human bodies are truly fascinating!
Research has found that meditation may actually have benefits for your immune system.
Fact 5: Mindfulness meditation may be good for your immune health
While there are limitations to the findings, it’s interesting to think that the simple act of meditation could possibly do more than centre your mind.
Fact 6: Inflammation is an immune response
Inflammation is how your immune system responds to the introduction of germs. This inflammation could be in the form of a fever, pain, redness or swelling.
Inflammation that is acute lasts a short time only. This type of acute inflammation may occur when your body is fighting an infection. This is completely normal. It’s your body doing it’s thing!
Fact 7: Laughter may be the best medicine
We know that stress and immune system health are connected and working to manage and control stress may be beneficial. Plus, laughter may play a role in helping to reduce stress.
Going further than that, in one study of postpartum women, researchers found that laughter therapy may have positive effects on the immune system. Fascinating!
Fact 8: Playing in nature may be good for children’s immune health
In one recent study in Finland, researchers transformed the play spaces of four daycare centres into a mini forest complete with turf, shrubs and mosses. During an average of 90 minutes of play outside each day, the children were encouraged to play with the plants and the soil.
After one month, these children had a greater diversity of microbes on their skin and in their guts than the comparison group of children.
Fact 9: Inflammaging is a thing
As you age, so does your immune system. The changes that come about through the aging immune system may make you more susceptible to infection.
As you age, chronic, low-grade inflammation can develop. This is called inflammaging and it can contribute to how age-related diseases develop.
This is an area of ongoing research so stay tuned!
Fact 10: Move for your immune system
One thing Dr Jill says you should be doing to keep your body and immune system healthy is physical activity.
The effects of physical activity on the immune system are documented. Moderate-intensity physical activity may help immune system health.
Being aware of what affects your immune system and making choices that will support good immune health.
These 10 facts about the immune system are just the beginning
Trying to choose only a small number of interesting facts about the immune system wasn’t easy! There is so much interesting research on how to support your immune system, including on topics like adaptogens.
As much as scientists and doctors know about the immune system, there is always more to learn – which makes it an interesting and evolving topic!
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Dr Jill Gamberg is a General Practitioner and one of the first Australian Lifestyle Medicine Physicians whose goal is to help prevent disease and maintain wellness with evidence-based practice, and to passionately improve health literacy.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board September 2021.