Immunity In Difficult Times
Words by Natasha Daniels
1st December 2020
It’s the perhaps the buzzword of our times – immunity. We know you’re tired of hearing the C word (no, not that one) but thanks to – yes – COVID-19, immunity is on everyone’s minds.
Your aunt shared a sourceless article to the family chat about how garlic can make you immune to, well, anything. Your neighbour swears her herbal tea has made her healthier than ever. Your Facebook feed tells you… well, we won’t even go there.
So what’s the truth? Worrying about health is a key factor in sleep
deprivation according to mental health charity Mind, so we’ve gotten our hands dirty and done the research.
But… What actually is it?
Immunity is generally defined as the process by which your body recognises and defends itself against bacteria, viruses and harmful substances. The immune system recognises and defends against antigens, which are substances on the surface of things like cells, fungi, bacteria and viruses.
If your body recognises an antigen that doesn’t belong (our cells naturally contain some), it tries to destroy it. That scratchy throat making you cough constantly? That’s your body naturally fighting against antigens at work. Look at you, you regular superhero.
You’ve woken up in the middle of the night, head throbbing, limbs aching, and the ominous glow of the thermometer in the dark is lighting up with a number that’s far too high. That’s right, you have a fever. But before you curse the one time you’d rather not have a hot body, a fever isn’t as bad as you think. In fact, it’s probably a good thing.
Whilst it can be undeniably unpleasant, that number on the thermometer is actually a sign that your body is releasing white blood cells, boosting its metabolism, and stopping organisms from multiplying. White blood cells are responsible for moving through your blood vessels, ingesting and absorbing anything posing a threat.
Everything that comes with inflammation may be pretty low on the list of things that are enjoyable—redness, heat, pain, and swelling—but they’re sure signs that your immune system is kicking in. These effects occur when each damaged cell releases histamines, causing cell walls to dilate and limiting the damage being done. (And no, sadly they’re not those kind of histamines… So popping a Claritin won’t help).
So how do I boost it?
Okay, so we’ve established being ill is no fun. Groundbreaking. But what can you do to make sure your immune system is in top nick?
Sleep and Immune Health
The 70s are known for many things. Bell bottoms, disco music, and… Sleep research? Perhaps less decade-defining, but no less significant, whilst the world was out dancing and protesting a group of researchers discovered the first defining link between sleep and our immune system.
The science here is a little jargon-filled, but to put it simply- these researchers discovered an amino acid which, while asleep, our body creates in order to help fight off infection and inflammation.
Their research found a clear result: when we sleep poorly, our immune system is weaker. Turns out fighting off infections is so easy, you can do it with your eyes closed. And a little bit of Dreem Distillery.
Diet and Immune Health
The way to your immune system’s heart is through its stomach. A diet rich in various nutrients known to increase the function of immune cells (vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein) is key to a strong immune system.
Your aforementioned aunt’s article about a magical garlic cure-all may have some truth to it, too. When crushed, garlic releases compounds which boost the antigen fighting abilities of your white blood cells. So whilst it may not be a one-way ticket to complete immunity, it can form part of a wider immune system boosting diet