4 Infallible Ways to Boost Your Immune System

Modern medicine focuses on cures, not on lifestyle interventions that can prevent many diseases depending on a healthy immune system. Let’s actively boost our immune system to overcome deadly pathogens, carcinogens and self-inflicted wounds driven by anxiety and stress. Let’s realize that our immune system is at the core of our wellbeing, regulating our organism’s response to infections, cancer and autoimmunity.

Basics of the Immune System

The immune system is a sophisticated set of proteins, cells, tissues and organs working together to protect any organism. Even trees have rudimentary immune systems! Although its main goal is to repel infections, it also plays a role patrolling and controlling cancer while potentially able to trigger autoimmune diseases.

The immune system consists of a number of important players, described as members of a detective task force in chapter 2 of the free kindle book Mindful Framing:

T Cells: These are the major orchestrators of all the components in the immune system. Some types of T cells are able to recognize infected and cancerous cells and directly kill or destroy them. Other T cells assist or regulate the activities of other immune cells.

B Cells: These cells play a major role in producing billions of antibodies, tiny molecules that are always on the look out for pathogens and unwanted cells. B cells play a crucial role in controlling infections by tagging pathogens and cancer cells to be recognized by macrophages, but can also generate antibodies causing autoimmune diseases.

Macrophages: These cells recognize pathogens or unwanted cells that need to be removed while interacting with T cells, informing them which cells are allies or enemies.

Natural Killer Cells: These are rapid-response cells able to kill infected and cancerous cells, like the T cells, but just relying on certain markers not requiring the intervention of other immune cells.

Age and the Immune System

The elderly are more susceptible to infectious diseases, and unfortunately, more likely to die from them. This is because as we age, our immune system is less effective at combating infections, and less responsive to vaccines.

Why is this? As we age, the total number of T cells remain the same; however, the number of naïve T cells decrease. Naïve T cells are T cells that learn to recognize specific pathogens. They then develop into cells that are specialists in future encounters with those specific pathogens.

Additionally, senescent T cells, which are T cells that have deteriorated with age, are easily exhausted after becoming active and start producing inflammation-causing substances potentially leading to chronic systemic inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis or lupus.

There also seems to be an association between nutrition and immunity in older individuals. The elderly can display micronutrient malnutrition, a form of malnutrition which occurs when one is deficient in various essential vitamins and minerals. This is because they tend to eat less and have a less diverse diet.

 

You can optimize your immune system by using these 4 infallible lifestyle interventions to boost its function:

Eat a healthy diet

There are many definitions of what a “healthy diet” is, but the general consensus is that it is one that is rich in fruits and vegetables and poor in processed foods. Research has shown that fruits and vegetables contain nutrients such as beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E, which can boost your immune function. In addition, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants which fight inflammation.

In particular, beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant that not only reduces disease-causing inflammation, but also boosts the immune system by increasing the number of immune cells in the body. Foods that are rich in beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, and green leafy vegetables.

Likewise, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that aids in the destruction of free radicals. It also boosts the immune system in a number of ways. For instance, it promotes the production and coordinated function of T cells and B cells, and protects them from free radical damage. Lastly, vitamin C strengthens the skin barrier, preventing pathogens from entering the body in the first place. Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, strawberries, lemons, red peppers and other fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that it increases the T cells ability to form an effective immune synapse. An effective immune synapse means having a close contact between immune system cells, essential for the proper functioning of the immune system. You can get Vitamin E from nuts, seeds, broccoli and spinach.

Having a balanced diet leads to a healthy gut, essential for a healthy immune system. That’s because the majority of your immune system resides in the gut, in fact, up to 80%.

In order to maintain a healthy gut, you need to maintain a good balance between the good bacteria, and the bad bacteria in your gut. One way you can do this is by consuming probiotics, either in supplement form or in food. Good food sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables.

Another way in which you can improve your gut health is to avoid or limit your consumption of highly processed foods. This is because highly processed foods can cause inflammation of the gut.

Get enough sleep

We all know the importance of sleep for rejuvenating our mind and organism, but did you know that it can also boost our immune system?

Not getting enough sleep has been linked to a reduction in immune function. For example, research has shown that people who sleep less than 5 hours a night are more likely to have suffered a recent cold.

Why is this so? Well, in order for your T cells to destroy pathogens, they need to come in close contact with them. Sticky substances called integrins facilitate this contact; think of them as the glue that your T cells need to stick to pathogens.

Stress hormones make these integrins less sticky. When you get enough sleep, your stress hormones drop, causing the integrins to stick better. And when they’re stickier, your T cells are better able to adhere to pathogens, boosting your immunity.

In order to get enough sleep, it is critical to optimize your sleep environment. For instance, you’ll want to reduce your exposure to blue light from blue-light emitting devices such as TVs, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. This is because blue light reduces the production of melatonin, a hormone that is responsible for good sleep.

You’ll also want to make sure your sleep environment is quiet, so you can fall asleep and stay asleep. If you live in a noisy neighbourhood, you may want to wear earplugs, or turn on a white-out machine to drown out noise.

You’ll also want to make sure that you’re not too hot or too cold, as either factor can result in poor sleep. You can do this by wearing night wear that keeps you at a comfortable temperature, adjusting your thermostat accordingly, and using appropriate bedding.

Practice anxiety management

Anxiety and chronic stress affect not only your mind, but your immune system too. Chronic stress decreases the number of T cells and B cells. This in turn increases your risk for viral infections, such as colds and cold sores. Chronic stress also activates latent viruses, viruses which have been dormant in your body. The activation of latent viruses due to chronic stress causes wear and tear on your immune system, making it exhausted and “burnt out”, unable to deal with everyday assaults to your body. Lastly, chronic stress results in chronic inflammation, causing autoimmune diseases.

Due to the effect of chronic stress on the immune system, it is important to practice anxiety management. You can do this in a number of ways. One way is to practice mindfulness-based meditation. This lowers your cortisol levels, which in turn reduces inflammation. Mindful framing also achieves this effect by transforming your anxiety into vital energy while developing a mental framework focusing on connecting to nature, emotional intelligence and invigorating your organism. Practicing yoga also lowers your cortisol levels and relaxes your nervous system, thus reducing inflammation.

Besides practicing these mind-body activities, simply spending time in nature can boost your immune system. When you’re out in nature, the sounds, smells, and sights can also induce feelings of calm. Additionally, some research shows that phytoncide, an antibacterial substance released by trees, increases Natural Killer Cell activity. So, the next time you’re under stress, go for a walk and while you’re at it, practice some mindful framing.

Engage in regular exercise

You know the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?’’. Well, that saying can also apply to exercise. In a study examining the effects of exercise on the immune system, participants who walked at least 20 minutes a day, a minimum of 5 days a week, had almost 50% less sick days than those who walked once a week or less. What’s more, when they did get sick, they were sick for a shorter period, and their symptoms were milder.

Engaging in regular exercise becomes even more important as you get older. That’s because research shows that exercise can increase the number of T cells, and even improve the response to vaccines in the elderly.

However, exercise intensity matters. You want to aim for moderate intensity exercise, not high intensity exercise. This is because engaging in prolonged high intensity exercise, without enough recovery time, may increase the risk of illness. So, go ahead and get some exercise, but try not to overdo it.

 

We live in an increasingly hostile environment to our bodies and minds, and despite many miracle therapies in today’s medicine, prevention is still better than cure. So, take the time to boost your immune system in a holistic manner. Your very life could depend on it.

Why we need a Cancer Care Act

Why should cancer patients struggle financially, despite their major contributions to cancer care? Why should families undergo economic distress while caring for the front-line soldiers of the cancer battle?

Although progress is very encouraging, cancer will remain one the leading causes of death in developed countries. We know how to prevent some types of cancer and we can cure many early-stage cancers. However, we still cannot defeat most advanced cancers, just extending survival by mere months or a few years.

A human right

The World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution of 1946 declared that the “enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.” The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including medical care and necessary social services.”

Translating this set of rights into cancer care, every human being should be able to access key discoveries on prevention, early detection, and management of cancer. If this is a war, we need to have commanders and soldiers united with a single purpose, coordinating efforts and supporting each other.

An economic right

The costs of cancer care are staggering. When several procedures and expensive cancer treatments are required in a short period of time, financial hardship or medical bankruptcy are all-too-frequently the result.

Cancer patients should be fairly compensated for becoming the center of the so-called digital health revolution. Combining electronic medical records, genomics, and demographic data makes every single patient a formidable source of scientific and medical knowledge. As the most vulnerable and least organized group, the society should recognize and reward financially contributions of cancer patients.

A healthcare right

Progress in cancer care would not take place without patients participating in clinical trials and cancer registries, potentially sacrificing their lives or enduring serious adverse events. Data sharing, integration and collaboration requires trust and better communication, as well as a legislative framework to define the healthcare rights and duties of every stakeholder.

Cancer is not just a disease. It is a plague that can cripple individuals, families, and social networks. Not confronting the disease at its core, the cancer patient, will lead over time to a more fragile society.

What would go through you mind if you were told today that you had leukemia with a 2-year life expectancy? Wouldn’t you consider the impact of work disability, family care, maxed-out insurance deductibles, and significant out-of-pocket costs? Wouldn’t you feel at ease if you and your family were promised a financial safety net in exchange for your contribution to the advance of medical and scientific knowledge?

A Cancer Care Act would be a fair act of human solidarity.

Oscar Segurado, MD, PhD, Director of Medic Affairs Consulting LLC, has extensive global experience covering oncology, immunology and molecular biology in academia and industry settings.

www.medicaffairs.com

This is an excerpt of an article originally published in The Hill on May 10, 2017

Beyond the moonshot: Achieving universal cancer care

To achieve truly personalized cancer care, our healthcare system should integrate technology with the human touch.

President John Kennedy’s moonshot mission in the 1960s that landed a man on the moon has become an inspiration for conquering cancer.

Achieving universal cancer care requires precision and personalized medicine, as well as integrated care, a multi-dimensional approach to ensure patients in need are aware of and have access to life-saving treatments.

Precision and personalized medicine, driven by big data analytics and artificial intelligence, cannot completely replace human interactions, especially the relationship between patients and caregivers. This relationship can be marked by confusion, anxiety, and helplessness, all a result of the overwhelming and complex medical information that must be understood, among other factors. Physicians spend an increasing amount of time on continual education and administrative paperwork, decreasing the amount and quality of time they can spend with their patients.

To achieve truly personalized care, our healthcare system should integrate technology with the human touch. Patients should understand the basics of precision and personalized medicine and feel empowered to make decisions regarding how their data will be used for themselves and to save the lives of others. Only through joining forces and ensuring patient-centric healthcare can we become masters of the cancer universe.

Oscar Segurado, MD, PhD, Director of Medic Affairs Consulting LLC, has extensive global experience covering oncology, immunology and molecular biology in academia and industry settings.

www.medicaffairs.com

This is an excerpt of an article originally published in The Hill on February 6, 2007