The immune system is a collection of billions of cells that travel through the bloodstream, defending the body against foreign bodies (antigens) such as bacteria viruses, and cancerous cells. During stress, the ability of the immune system to fight off antigens like bacteria, viruses, etc gets reduced and the body becomes prone to infections. According to the American Psychological Association- Stress can reduce the number of natural killer cells or lymphocytes in the body which are needed to fight foreign bodies causing infections. Adopting Ayurveda principles helps to reduce stress and build strong immunity. A balanced diet full of veggies, fruits, and antioxidant food and adopting a healthy lifestyle, can reduce stress and anxiety levels.
What is the Immune system?
The immune system is a protective system in the body that protects the body from foreign substances, cells, and tissues by producing the immune response. The immune system includes the thymus, spleen, lymph nodes, special deposits of lymphoid tissue (as in the gastrointestinal tract, and bone marrow), macrophages, lymphocytes including B-cells and T-cells, and antibodies. There are two main parts of the immune system:-
- The innate immune system- It is present in the body when you are born.
- The adaptive immune system- It is developed by your body when it is exposed to microbes or chemicals released by microbes.
Both immune systems work together in the body as a defense system- Your body immunity.
Healthy ways to build strong immunity.
One of the first lines of your defense should be adopting healthy living habits. The following tips may help you optimize your immune system. When you practice healthy living habits and protect your body from environmental assaults, every part of your body, including your immune system, performs better.
- Consume seasonal fruits and vegetables as a part of your diet.
- Fix and follow a regular exercise schedule.
- Avoid smoking.
- Maintain a healthy B.M.I (Body mass index).
- Drink in moderation.
- Fix your sleeping schedule- concentrating on good quality and quantity os sleep.
- Cut down your stress levels.
- Adopt proper hygiene practices like frequently washing hands with soap and cooking your meals properly. Consume freshly prepared meals.
- Take vaccinations as scheduled properly.
What is stress?
Stress is a normal feeling. It is your physical and emotional reaction to changes experienced in life due to different situations. Its experience varies from person to person. What may appear to be a stressful situation for one person may not be for another. Remaining under stress for a long time can increase the risk of various health problems like- digestive disorders, headaches, sleep disorders, heart diseases, etc. Further stress may worsen your asthma and may lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.
Stress has two forms: physicochemical stress and psychological stress. For both, the form’s body has the capability to adapt to environmental changes and adjust itself accordingly. Physicochemical stress is caused by environmental factors like food and nutrition, toxins, metabolic disorders, infections, and inflammation. Psychological stress is caused by problems in adaptation, perception, and emotions. The source of stress is internal, located within the psyche, and may be triggered by external factors. It is related to the body’s internal response to physical or atmospheric stimuli.
What is link between Stress and Immunity?
As per a review of studies in Current Opinion in Psychology– It was observed that stress can make the immune system produce an inflammatory response, which is temporarily beneficial to fight microorganisms. On the other hand, if the inflammation is persistent and widespread, it may increase the risk of chronic diseases.
According to recent immunology research studies, chronic stress can produce more than the optimal level of cortisol. which can hamper the body’s anti-inflammatory response and may cause persistent infections. Long-term and chronic stress leads to persistently high cortisol and corticosteroid levels. which can cause impaired anti-inflammatory effects on the immune system. It can lead to chronic infections, inflammatory autoimmune diseases, cancers, and other physiological disorders.
Thus if the immune system is weak and can not properly cope with physicochemical stresses, or if the stress exceeds the normal adaptability level of the immune system- it leads to diseased or fatal health problems.
There is a complex relationship between the immune system and stress. Your immune system is sensitive to stress, especially when it is chronic. It knows when you are stressed about work, family, finances, or other events.
By dealing with or avoiding the reasons, you are causing yourself the stress. You can reduce stress and build a strong immune system.
How to cut down stress levels?
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How to reduce stress and build strong immunity?
Tips to reduce stress and build strong immunity:-
Magnesium-rich lentils to reduce stress:- Lentils are a rich source of magnesium and fibers that improve gut health. These provide complex carbs, a sustained source of energy, which is needed while dealing with stressful conditions. Fibers ensure an alkaline medium in the intestine which further helps in the absorption of essential nutrients. Which improves gut health and leads to improvement in mental health.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are known to have antidepressant properties. Besides fish oil, it is also present in algae plant oil.
Eating bananas:- Bananas are rich in tryptophan, which gets converted into serotonin, a monoamine neurotransmitter that contributes to a feeling of well-being and happiness, thus relieving stressful conditions.
Nuts consumption: Nuts, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and peanuts are rich in magnesium, which helps relax muscles and acts as a mood stabilizer.
Ashwagandha and Brahmi: Indian adaptogens like Ashwagandha and Brahmi can help reduce stress by balancing spiked-up cortisol levels, the stress hormones.
Yoga and Meditation: Yoga and meditation are ancient Indian practices that bring mind and body into union with nature, thus relieving stress levels and facilitating the building of a strong immune system.
Take a walk:– Take a morning walk in nature. Research shows that a 90-minute walk outdoors in the fresh air can reduce activity in the brain linked to repetitive negative thoughts. And may help in reducing your stress levels.
Listening to your favorite music:- Some studies have revealed that singing or listening to your favorite music may lower cortisol- a “stress hormone” level that can contribute to lowering stress.
Engage in social activities: During stressful times, you may feel like remaining alone and avoiding socializing. But this is the time to reach out and meet the people you trust and love. Your social support circle may help you overcome your problems in life by improving your self-esteem and reducing stressful conditions. Avoid negative thoughts.
Tips to build strong immunity.
Following lifestyle changes and dietary habits can help you to build strong immunity naturally.
Sleep is closely related to immunity. Take adequate rest and fix your sleeping hours. Good quality and quantity of sleep help a lot to reduce stress and build strong immunity. In fact, inadequate or poor-quality sleep may increase the risk of illness. As per a study, it was observed that persons who slept less than 6 hours per night have an increased risk of getting a cold infection in comparison to persons who slept 6 or more hours each night.
Adults should sleep for 7 to 8 hours, depending upon their health conditions. Teens need 8 to 10 hours and children and infants need up to 14 hours of sleep.
For quality sleep, fix your sleeping schedule and avoid electronic screen watching (smartphones, computers, TV, etc.) for at least one hour before going to bed. Adopt the habit of reading before sleeping. Sleep in a calm and dark room.
Consume fruits and vegetables in your diet.
Consumption of seasonal whole vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes in your diet helps maintain a healthy gut microbiome ( gut microbiome is made up of the trillions of microorganisms that live in the intestinal tract). These microbiomes mainly comprise bacteria. and are involved in various body functions necessary for health and well-being). A healthy gut microbiome helps build strong immunity.
These foods (fruits and vegetables) are rich in nutrients and antioxidants. The antioxidants help to decrease inflammation by combating unstable compounds called free radicals. Prolonged and high levels of inflammation may cause severe health complications like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers. The vitamin C found in fruits and vegetables may help to shorten the duration of cold infections.
Consume healthy fats.
Consumption of healthy fats like olive oil, ghee, and omega-3 fatty acids may help to build your immunity. Healthy fats can boost your immune response to microorganisms by reducing inflammation. Prolonged chronic inflammation can suppress your body’s immunity. Olive oil possesses potent anti-inflammatory properties and is linked to decreasing the risk of chronic health conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc. Moreover, anti-inflammatory properties may also help counter disease-causing microorganisms.
Ghee, rich in butyric acid, helps the body produce T cells. T cells ( also called T lymphocytes, a type of WBC) help the body fight diseases.
Omega-3 fatty acids like those found in salmon and chia seeds also have anti-inflammatory benefits.
Fats are the most important part of food!
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Consume fermented food.
The consumption of fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, natto, etc. contains probiotics, which help create a healthy microbiome in your gut. Research suggests that flourishing gut bacteria may help your immune cells to differentiate between normal, healthy cells and disease-causing microorganisms invading your body. Probiotic supplements can be another option if you do not consume fermented food.
Maintain your body mass index (BMI).
As per recent research, it was observed that consuming too much-added sugars and refined carbs may add to your body weight and obesity. Obesity is the risk factor for many diseases like- cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, etc.
Obese people have reduced immunity as fat cells infiltrate organs such as the spleen, bone marrow, and thymus, where immune cells are produced and stored. As per Catherine Anderson, a nutritional scientist at Fairfield University, ” We are losing immune tissue in exchange for Adipose tissue, making the immune system less effective in either protecting the body from pathogens or responding to a vaccine”.
As per a study, around 1,000 obese people, who were given the flu vaccine were found to have twice the risk of getting the infection, in comparison to people without obesity who received the vaccine.
Optimizing your sugar intake may decrease inflammation and helps in maintaining a healthy BMI. Obesity is the risk factor for many diseases- Thus reducing the risk of chronic health issues like- type-2 diabetes, heart disease, etc. Moreover, these health conditions may further weaken your immunity. Optimizing sugar intake is an important factor to build strong immunity.
To optimize your sugar intake, you should limit its consumption to less than 5% of your daily calorie needs. i.e., less than 25 grams (2 tablespoons) for a 2000-calorie diet.
Adopt a moderate exercise schedule.
Adopt a schedule for moderate exercise. (An intense and prolonged exercise schedule may suppress your immune system.) Moderate exercise includes brisk walking, steady bicycling, jogging, and swimming. Around 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week is considered optimum, depending on one’s health conditions.
Regular moderate exercise improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, and helps maintain a healthy BMI. Regular exercise is the pillar of healthy living and contributes to good health and a strong immune system.
Adopting several lifestyle and dietary changes can help you to reduce stress and build strong immunity.
As per Ayurveda, with a healthy immune system, our body can do, what it is designed to do naturally. By strengthening our digestive system (digestive power, or Agni) and cleansing the body of toxins (Ama), optimum immunity can be achieved to get protection from infections caused by bacteria and viruses.
According to Ayurvedic principles, Pitta dosha is mainly responsible for the proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract and regulates the secretion of enzymes and acids-which act on food for proper digestion. Any imbalance of pitta may lead to digestive problems. Dietary changes and lifestyle changes as suggested above, along with herb usage, can greatly improve the digestive process. and lead to a healthy gut. In Ayurveda main focus is given to improving the digestive process, which strengthens immunity against diseases and helps us prevent infection.
The immune system can be strengthened by optimizing Agni (The digestive fire). By brightened Agni – Ama ( the undigested food matter) does not accumulate in your body. Which builds strong Ojus. Ojus is the life sap that is essential energy for your strong immunity.
Simple Ayurvedic tips for preventing infection.
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Adopting proper hygiene measures and at times seeking medical advice as and when required should be considered.
Wishing all a healthy and disease-free life.
For awareness purposes only. For treatment, please consult your healthcare provider.
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