Our immune systems take a battering over the course of our lives, not just as we age beyond 50, but in all sorts of situations. There are the obvious, such as getting an illness or an infection. Under these circumstances we could be considered to be suffering an acute immune system overload. This means that briefly our immune systems are very limited in what they are able to do, but that after a brief spike they bounce back in full. It is normal for this bounce back to take longer as we grow older, but we will eventually recover, with or without medical support.
However, staying physically fit and healthy can have an impact on our immune system. Physical stress is a thing. We often assume that stress is a mental ailment, like sadness or anger, but stress is very much physical and hormonal, and we can be stressed physically even whilst feeling great emotionally. When we work out hard, take up a new exercise, or push ourselves when we are already weak, the stress hormones in our body spike. This causes inflammation and can result in a weakened immune system.
Eating a varied diet, living in the city, or keeping pets all challenge our immune system too. Even though we do not have allergic reactions to these things, our bodies are continually fighting foreign bacteria and materials that come from these sources. Which means that someone in the city, with a cat, who eats an adventurous diet is challenging their immune system more than someone in the suburbs, without pets, who eats a simple diet. On the plus side, the more we challenge our immune system the stronger it gets. But the downside is that when something serious happens, like a major infection, our bodies are already working hard, so we could overstress them.
And as we grow older spontaneous allergies and autoimmune conditions may appear where they did not exist before. This is fairly natural, as all the cells in our body mutate and change. Maybe we aren’t digesting food so well, so some substances irritate our guts. Or maybe we have upset our immune system and it has associated something random with that damage. Whatever the case, you may find you suddenly have an allergy to something you’d never been allergic to before.
To fight all this, we need to eat a wide range of vitamins and minerals that improve our immunity. By improving our immunity, we reduce the chances of both infections and autoimmune conditions, and help our bodies to stay fighting fit.
Vitamin A is amazing for balancing our immune system. Whereas many immune-boosting supplements can make inflammation or autoimmune conditions worse, as they act by making white blood cells more powerful, vitamin A focuses on quality over quantity, regulating the immune system, fighting illness and autoimmune complaints at once. Enough vitamin A will fight UTIs, skin problems, and gut imbalances.
All B vitamins boost our immune system. On the one hand, they do this by supplying our cells with the energy they need to do their job well. This means that our immune cells are all working hard to retain that vital balance, and that they are fueled to do this job. B vitamins also fight the effects of stress from mental or physical activity, making sure we are comfortable and our mood is elevated.
When it comes to preventing illness, little beats vitamin C. Vitamin C is often praised for its illness destroying abilities, but the reality is that it works its magic before the illness strikes. Firstly, because vitamin C is an antioxidant which helps reverse free radical damage. This means that our immune cells are better able to fight off illness, but also that other cells all over our bodies are better able to defend themselves. And secondly because vitamin C facilitates the absorption of iron, which is essential for carrying oxygen and nutrients to cells. By ensuring cells receive everything they need to stay nourished, we prevent the sort of anoxic environment that encourages infection and illness in the first place.
Finally, when we are deficient in any vitamin we are putting our bodies under stress. Our bodies need some of every vitamin to function properly, and the cravings we get when we are deficient in a vitamin are a sort of stress. So make sure to always have the number of vitamins you need. When in doubt, talk to your doctor about measuring your serum vitamin levels and possibly supplementing.
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