- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Ways to Toughen Up Our Immune System
When kids get sick more often than usual we hear people, as well as doctors, say that the immune system is weak. What do they really mean?
Immune system is the mechanism that protects us from illnesses. It is basically designed to defend us against millions of bacteria, viruses, toxins, microbes and parasites that want to overrun and take over our bodies. The immune system has major components that most of us probably don’t know. The most popular components would probably be the antibodies and the lymph system, lymph nodes in particular, because this is what doctors and nurses, and even parents, try to check.
I remember that I hated to see a white lab coat every time I’d go to the hospital near us because that meant the owner of the hospital would be there to check me. He was the only doctor there who wore one and so the white lab coat was my clue of his presence. I always felt I was in a classroom with all his lectures, he could remember all those times I would come in with cuts and bruises. Anyway, to get back to the lymph nodes, when he would check my neck and tell my mom he could feel the lymph nodes again, meaning they are swollen and most likely I have an infection. So the lymph system is what we are most familiar with but it is only a part of a system that extends throughout our body.
The immune system has been working inside you to keep you in your best form but you probably do not where it is or how it does its job. Everybody knows that inside our chest is a major organ called the “heart”. Even a child knows where the heart is but what we don’t know is that there is a small pink-gray bilobed organ in the thoracic cavity responsible for producing T-cells. And though removing it from an adult will not make a crucial effect, as there are other immune system components, a baby can die without a thymus because the immune system of the baby will collapse.
The organs of the immune system are stationed throughout the body. They are generally referred to as lymphoid organs because they are concerned with the growth, development, and deployment of lymphocytes, the white cells that are the key operatives of the immune system. Lymphoid organs include the bone marrow and the thymus, as well as lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils and adenoids, the appendix, and clumps of lymphoid tissue in the small intestine known as Peyer's patches. The blood and lymphatic vessels that carry lymphocytes to and from the other structures can also be considered lymphoid organs.
The white blood cells are probably the most important part of the immune system and so these are used as a measure of immune system health. A strong immune system would be determined by counting the different types of white blood cells in a blood sample. It is very important to make sure that we have a very strong immune system in order that we can fight off the viral and bacterial infections that are by far the most common causes of illness such as colds, influenza, measles, mumps, malaria, AIDS and many more. In fact it is our immune system that can detect cancer and its early stages and eliminate it in many cases.
Knowing how expensive getting sick is these days make it doubly important for us to toughen up our immune system. Children in school uniforms may have a hard time coping with an illness aside from the fact that they miss a lot in school. Parents would not only spend money but have to take the time off from work in order to take care of their child. Basically, prevention is still better and we can help make our immune system become tougher with these few suggestions.
Properly Wash Your Hands
Washing your hands properly is probably the cheapest and the easiest way to help your immune system fight illness. Remember that you often use your hands touch wherever we go, unless you are like Monk with his phobias, and you never know who else touched it. Properly washing your hands mean you use soap and clean running water to rinse it off properly for at least 20 seconds. This is one practice that can be easily taught to children. If you don't have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol.
Make Sure You Get a Good Night's Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, kids ages 5 to 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night. Adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. No matter what age, children should be taught about the importance of sleep and encouraged to have good sleep habits. Good sleep is very important because it allows our body to rest and recuperate its energy. It also gives our immune system the resources to fight off illness. If children have good sleep habits we can expect then to be less prone to illness as their resistance is stronger.
Marc Weissbluth, MD in his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child shares some insightful comments to show how important sleep is:
"Sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm. Every night and at every nap, sleep recharges the brain's battery. Sleeping well increases brainpower just as weightlifting builds stronger muscles, because sleeping well increases your attention span and allows you to be physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time. Then you are at your personal best."
Eat Lots and Lots of Antioxidants
Anti-oxidants are important disease-fighting compounds. They are believed to help prevent and repairs the stress that comes from oxidation which is a natural process that occurs during normal cell formation. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that can help you get a good dose of antioxidants and thus can help you protect your cells from free radicals, molecules that can damage cells. Choose from these fruits and vegetable in order to get a wide range of antioxidants: berries (Cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries), apples, oranges, green peppers, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, carrots, watermelon, papaya, leafy greens, and cantaloupe and even red wine.
Exercise and Participate in Physical Activities
Living a sedentary life is not going to help you strengthen your immune system. Exercise and physical activities such as walking, yoga, bicycling, swimming and other forms would be of great help. I have always preferred physical activities I can do regularly with friends like sports volleyball, basketball, and even family football and other activities that you will thoroughly enjoy. But if you enjoy programmed exercises or going to the gym then that’s what you should do. What is important is that you check with your doctor so that it is perfectly suited to your current health situation.
Keep Away from Empty Calories
This is the one thing that seems to be really hard for some to follow. Empty calories are found in foods that are very high in energy but low in nutrients and they also give us a high amount of sugar. Examples of this are soft drinks and fruit drinks, candy, cookies, donuts, pastries, margarine, butter, cream, bacon, and all deep-fat fried foods and most junk foods. They really taste good, come to think of it, and that is the reason why a lot have a hard time weaning themselves off these type of food unfortunately, it does not give you the nutrients that your body needs.
It would be great if children are given foods that are low in calories but high in nutrients such as fruit, vegetables, low fat milk, lean meats and whole wheat breads. To fend off their hunger pangs, they can munch on cucumber or carrot sticks instead of giving them chocolate or snack bars which is also high in sugar. Nutritious food would help build their resistance to illness.
Keeping a positive attitude, reducing stress, going out with friends, having a good laugh and doing activities that help you relax can also help in boost your immune system. Avoiding activities that weakens your immune system is also important and that includes smoking and excessive alcohol intake. Some people also tries to help enhance their immune system with herbs and supplements as well as vitamins and minerals.
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