Who doesn't wish for a life without having to worry about catching an infection or falling ill due to the changing season? Unfortunately, due to the times we live in and our unhealthy lifestyles coupled with pollution levels hitting the roof, we are becoming more and more susceptible to all kinds of diseases. Our only respite then, is to build our immunity, our defence system against harmful pathogens.

Our immune system can be described as a mechanism that wards off pathogens bacterial and viral invasions. The immune system identifies those pathogenic or foreign cells, and puts up a defence against them since they are not a part of the body. When this system is weakened, our body gets more prone to viral and bacterial infections, and we fall ill. In certain cases, our immune system becomes hyperactive and starts acting against our body. Such a condition triggers autoimmune disorders, which include conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, etc. On the other hand, immunodeficiency is a condition wherein our immune system is less active, exposing our body to a host of infections.

How does the immune system work?

Our body is capable of releasing cells (called antibodies) and fluid secretions to combat the presence of any alien agent, which primarily include pathogens such as bacteria, virus, germs, fungi and parasites.

Whenever our body identifies an antigen (the foreign substance), millions of cells create an alarming situation, thereby activating the immune system, which then starts releasing antibodies to attack these antigens as a defence function.

In simple words, our bone marrow is home to immature stem cells that take the form of special immune cells as per the requirement. Virus, bacteria and other antigens first enter our body through our mouth or the respiratory system. Every area of our body is braced and armed with different sets of immune cells and antibodies to combat the parasites. Their role, functioning and efficacy differ. From cells that are vested with the responsibility of releasing antibodies, killing antigens or clearing off dead cells to repairing the damage done - the immune system is well categorised.

Types of immunities

Our immunity is pretty flexible; our diet and lifestyle can actually make or break our immune system. A part of it is natural our natural level of immunity which can also be influenced by genetic makeup; and acquired immunity a boost in immunity achieved via medication or vaccines. For example, our natural immune system is equipped to fight against cough and flu, whereas when we get vaccinations, they make us immune against a specific disease or a strain of bacteria, example Hepatitis B. The latter would be a case of acquired immunity.

Did You Know?  If your body has suffered from a particular viral or bacterial disease, it is unlikely to fall prey to the same again within a reasonable period of time. This is because in the first instance itself, certain immunity cells in the body were activated via medication. These are activated again if a similar threat is posed to the body again.

Immunity disorders

These would include allergies, autoimmune diseases and immunodeficiency. Many times our immune system mistakes harmless agents like dust or pollen as antigens and starts reacting, leading to allergies. In other cases, our immune system fails to differentiate between antigens and 'self' cells and start attacking the body. Immunodeficiency, on the other hand, is a result of the lack of one or more components of the immune system. This can happen due to some severe infection, drug reaction, lack of proper nutrition or lifestyle factors such as smoking or stress that can weaken the immune system. AIDS is an immunodeficiency disorder that occurs when the HIV virus attacks the human body and destroys the immune cells.

How to improve your immunity

Experts from all across the globe have long been trying to unravel the mystery behind our immunity. How exactly so many agents work in tandem to ward off diseases is quite a remarkable mechanism, which has not yet been fully understood by science. The immune system's ability to differentiate alien agents and the precision of time and intensity of attacking those antigens is something that has long been under medical scrutiny.

What you eat and other lifestyle factors have a great role to play in determining the efficacy of your immune system. Keep the following points in mind to ensure a stronger immunity:

1. Avoid smoking and alcohol
2. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle
3. Exercise regularly
4. Sleep properly
5. Drink enough water
6. Maintain healthy weight
7. Keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check
8. Stay clean and avoid catching infections
9. Keep stress at bay
10. Yoga helps strengthen immunity
11. Elderly people have depleting immunity hence they should get regular medical tests and check-ups done and be extremely watchful of their diet.

What to eat: Immunity Boosters

Vitamin-C, commonly found in citrus fruits, is largely associated with boosting immunity. Other essential minerals and nutrients that you need from your daily diet are:

1. Vitamin A
2. Vitamin B2, B6
3. Vitamin C, D, E
4. Zinc, iron, folic acid, selenium, magnesium, calcium

Hence, try to load up on the following food items:

1. Yoghurt for probiotics
2. Citrus fruits
3. Green leafy vegetables
4. Nuts and seeds
5. Mushrooms
6. Green tea
7. Meat, fish and poultry
8. Dairy

Apart from these, holy basil or tulsi, turmeric (haldi), ashwagandha (Indian Ginseng), licorice root, ginger, amla (Indian gooseberry), sea buckthorn and aloe vera also aid in maintaining and boosting immunity levels.

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