How Are Your Immune System’s Soldiers Doing?
With all the information – and disinformation – we’ve been fed about COVID-19 the last seven months, it’s difficult to keep it all straight.
But one message has been pretty consistent throughout. If your immune system is strong, you have a better shot of escaping a serious illness.
Now, that’s basically true of any virus you encounter. Regardless of whether it’s the common cold, the flu or the coronavirus. And it’s important to recognize that your immune system naturally weakens as you age.
But it’s good to know that most of us have at least some control over our ability to fight off viruses when we’re exposed to them.
Boosting the Immune System
Of course, knowing that a strong immune system is important and actually having one are two completely different things.
Some of us have been naturally gifted with an immune system capable of beating most illnesses to the punch. Others have a naturally weak immune system.
But all of us can take steps to strengthen our immune systems through certain activities and healthy diets.
Today I’d like to explore some of those ways while dispelling a few myths. First, though, let’s take a refresher course regarding how the immune system works.
Macrophages Shoot First, Eat Second
When your immune system is functioning properly, it’s like having an army of soldiers standing guard inside your body.
They don’t do a whole lot when you’re healthy because they don’t need to. But they’re always alert, waiting to attack when a virus or bacteria enters your body.
These warriors have names, and I want to tell you a little bit about five of them. First we have macrophages.
They are large white blood cells within your healthy tissue. When they spot a pathogen, they leap into action. Macrophages shoot out a blast of proteins known as cytokines to cripple or kill pathogens. Then they gobble them up.
Natural Killer Cells Trap Pathogens
A second group of immune system soldiers are called natural killer cells. They are adept at spotting pathogens that otherwise might go undetected.
Some pathogens are nearly invisible to the immune system but natural killer cells identify abnormal cellular appearances.
If they determine the cells are infected by a virus, they release proteins near the cells as a trap.
When the pathogens eat the proteins, they are poisoned by them and die.
Neutrophils Are Aggressive But Short-Lived
A third group of immune system protectors are called neutrophils. These soldiers really need to make their work count because they only live for a day.
The good news is, they’re quick to react and are quickly replaced by other neutrophils when they die on the battlefield.
Neutrophils are multi-talented. They can set traps for infected cells, inject poisons and even call for reinforcements.
But they do have a downside. They are so aggressive that sometimes they attack healthy tissue by mistake. The result is inflammation.
B Cells & T Cells – Pros and Cons
The fourth and fifth groups of warriors are B cells and T cells. B cells are most effective against diseases they’ve previously battled. But not as strong against new pathogens.
They are not natural killers but they can slow down pathogens by covering them with sticky, Y-shaped proteins. Macrophages then come in and make the kill.
T cells are better than B cells at recognizing new pathogens. And generally they learn quickly the best strategies for fighting them. T cells then train an army of other T cells to kill infected cells with toxins.
Coronavirus has proven more difficult for T cells than most viruses. It takes a while for the T cells to learn the code. Once they do, immunity could result.
No Magic Formulas
As promised, let’s take a look at a few immune system myths and counter with ways we can strengthen our immune systems.
The immune system is a complex mixture of hormones, proteins and cells designed to battle illnesses.
Dr. Robert Mordkin is a chief medical officer for a testing group. He says, “There’s no specific medication nor a single vitamin that has been proven to boost a person’s immune system.”
One myth is that high doses of Vitamin C will knock out a cold you’ve gotten. Not true. But maintaining a reasonable amount of Vitamin C in your diet might help your immune system fight off that cold in the first place.
More Myths & Truths
A second myth is that a multivitamin is all you need to stay healthy. They’re good for supporting your health but your immune system will benefit much more from the proper amount of sleep, a balanced diet and plenty of exercise.
A third myth is that tea can boost your immune system. Many people enjoy sipping tea when they’re ill but it won’t cure what ails you. Drinking water will keep you hydrated, allowing the bloodstream to transport healthy cells around the body.
A fourth myth is that the immune system can never be too strong. Actually, a super strong immune system will attack healthy tissue instead of viruses and other illnesses. Your best bet is to have a balanced immune system.
A fifth myth is that the idea of boosting your immune system is a myth. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most immune systems need a healthy boost. You can provide it with healthy life choices including eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Prevention is the best medicine. Keep your immune system strong and you’ll have a better shot at avoiding whatever virus comes your way.