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The Best Offence is Defence

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Strengthing immune defence for a better, healthier you

A castle on a hill … kind of.

Picture a castle built on the side of a hill. The last light of the day is fading and the first stars are flickering on the darkening sky. 

Maybe you are picturing a ruin, a tourist destination, someone you visited on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe.

But think now about the purpose of the castle. It is not merely decorative. It was not constructed as an elegant crown for a bare hill. No: it was built to protect the villages and hamlets and hinterlands from the lurking foes.

More than that: a strong castle would deter those foes.

Your immune system plays a similar role. It exists to fight off infection and illness — the foes that stand between you and a healthy life. The stronger the immune system, the better equipped you will be to go about your day-to-day business in peace.

Let’s leave the metaphor behind, at least for the time being. In more precise terms, what is the immune system? To put it simply, the immune system is a web of cells and proteins that work together in your body to fight against infections and microbes. 

This is where the castle analogy starts to fall down. Unlike a castle, which is a single, defined place that you can point to (and, if you are in an enemy army, deliberately target), the immune defence system is more like a network throughout your body. Working together, this network identifies and resists attacks on your health by producing white blood cells, mucous, and other appropriate responses.

What comprises the immune system?

Like I say, you can’t point to a single thing and say ah yes, there it is: the immune system. But you can identify some key parts of the body that play a vital role in your immune system. 

Important parts of the immune system include:

  • Your skin. Think of skin like protective armour. Actually, skin isn’t just like protective armour, it is protective armour. It is the first line of defence that stands between you and the literally trillions of microbes that live in the world. You don’t want those creepy-crawlies to have direct access to your heart, lungs, brain, and everything else.
  • Your lymphatic system. These tiny vessels dispersed throughout your body help your immune cells to travel freely. Imagine an ancient town with hundreds of tiny streets squiggling throughout them into all corners of the city. That’s the function that the lymphatic system plays.
  • Your spleen. Juliet famously says to Romeo that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. Perhaps that is true. I still feel sorry for the spleen, which is one of the more horrible sounding words in the English language. It might be a horrible word but it is a great organ. The spleen filters your blood, detects any issues in the body, and makes antibodies to help resist infection. It’s a three-in-one superhero: cleansing, detecting, and fighting.
  • Your thymus. Your what? The thymus is arguable the most underappreciated organ in the body. Most people don’t know where it is, what it is, or what it does. Even though the thymus isn’t going to win any awards for the most glamorous organ, it plays an important specialised role in your body. You’ll find in the upper part of your chest working hard making white blood cells that help to fight infection and keep a record of the attacks made on our body.

Boost your immune defence

On the one hand, not being able to see the immune system should make us appreciate it even more. It’s always whirring away in the background, not drawing attention to itself, simply humbly playing its part to keep us healthy.

On the other hand, because we can’t see it, we often don’t think about how we can support our immune defence. If the immune system were literally a castle, we’d be able to tell when the moat needed trawling or the east wall needed some repairs. But because we can’t see it, we can forget about how important it is to look after.

Here are four ways that you could boost your immune health.

  • Increase your vegetable intake. A healthy diet is the cornerstone of a healthy immune system. A healthy diet will help you to receive essential micronutrients that can strengthen your overall health.
  • Get outdoors. Vitamin C is an important requirement for healthy immune defence systems. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, and some berries are rich in Vitamin C. If you struggle to reach the recommended amount, supplements may be appropriate.
  • Stay hydrated. Your circulatory system uses fluids made up primarily of water to carry immune cells to where they are needed. It is generally important to stay hydrated when you feel unwell, as these are the times where we need the immune cells the most.
  • Avoid stress. I know that the advice to ‘avoid stress’ can seem quite simplistic. After all (nearly) nobody deliberately seeks stress out! Nonetheless, it is advice worth repeating, as excessive stress can dampen the impact of your immune system and leave you vulnerable to infection. You may like to speak to a trusted health professional about how to limit or manage stress in your own life. 

These are four key lifestyle choices that you can make to strengthen your immune defence. Could more be said on these? Absolutely! If you would like more information, I encourage you to speak to your GP or pharmacist. You should also consult an expert if you have underlying health conditions, a compromised immune system, or any other ongoing concerns.

I want to leave you with a few thoughts on supplements. Supplements are a popular way to boost the immune system. My advice: think about what the name suggests. Supplements are designed to supplement – not replace – good lifestyle decisions. They may also be appropriate if you are deficient in a certain area.

Many supplements target the immune system by promoting strong gut health. Strengthening the gut, believe it or not, is a great way to strengthen the immune system. Remember to always use as directed on the label.

Back to the castle

Let’s think about the castle again. There’s something romantic about the Medieval world: it’s full of knights, ballads, courts.

But the castle existed for primarily practical purposes. So too does your immune system. So treat your immune system right, out of recognition – and respect – for all that it does for you.