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Strengthening the immune system - what is important?

Our immune system has a lot to do during the cold season. A well-functioning immune system is particularly important in times of corona. How can you strengthen your immune system against unwelcome pathogens?

  • What is the immune system?
  • How can I strengthen my immune system?
  • Which micronutrients are particularly important for the immune system?
  • Tips on how you can strengthen your immune system
  • What weakens the immune system
  • Does the immune system get stronger after an infection?
  • How can I rebuild my immune system
  • ? Boosting the immune system: Which fruit is best?
  • Which home remedies strengthen the immune system?

What is the immune system?

The immune system is a complex system of different organs, cell types and molecules that defend against pathogens. Typical pathogens are bacteria, viruses, fungi and unicellular and multicellular parasites. The immune system also fights the body's own cells, which can pose a danger to the body, as best it can. These include cancer cells, for example.

Every day, various pathogens try to penetrate the human organism - usually without success - because the body's own defenses are so effective that infections often pass unnoticed. The prerequisite for this is, of course, that the body's own defenses are working properly. People with a weakened immune system are therefore more susceptible to colds or other infections. If pathogens are more aggressive than others or our immunological protection is impaired or inadequate, we become ill and symptoms such as fever, cough and runny nose become noticeable.

Our immune system is divided into two areas: the innate (non-specific) and the acquired (specific) immune system. Both defense systems work together and complement each other. The innate immune system is the body's basic defense system. It is not specialized in certain pathogens and can therefore react particularly quickly to all foreign substances. However, it is only effective to a limited extent in preventing the invasion of pathogens. In this case, the acquired immune system is responsible. This is specialized in certain pathogens and can remember the attackers after initial contact. It forms both so-called memory cells and specific antibodies. It therefore has a "memory".

How can I strengthen my immune system?

Positive news: you can support your immune system and thus contribute to the body's own defenses. First and foremost is nutrition. It is important to eat a balanced and varied diet with as few processed foods as possible. This is because the immune system consumes large amounts of energy to produce immune cells that fight pathogens.

If you focus on the colorful variety of vegetables and fruit in particular, you have already done a lot for your immune system. The German Nutrition Society recommends eating 3 portions of vegetables and 2 portions of fruit every day. One portion corresponds to a handful. For those who prefer more precise figures: you should eat 250 g of fruit and 400 g of vegetables every day. If you attach great importance to this, then vital micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals will be absorbed in sufficient quantities.

A varied diet also includes wholegrain products, nuts and pulses. These are rich in nutrients and provide you with plenty of protein and fiber. Fiber is good for the gut, which contains bacteria that are important for the body's immune system. The amino acid glutamine is important in this context. This is because glutamine plays an important role in maintaining the intestinal barrier as the main energy source of the intestine. Around 70 % of all our immune cells are located in the intestine. It is therefore of great interest to maintain intestinal health in order to be protected against pathogens.

You can read more about this in the blog post Glutamine - for a healthy gutGlutamine - for a healthy gut To the blog post Equally important for the immune system are sufficient sleep, plenty of exercise - especially in the fresh air - and little stress.

Which micronutrients are particularly important for the immune system? Our immune system needs a range of micronutrients in order to function optimally:

Zinc is an important component of the body's immune system. It is also involved in the maturation and number of certain immune defense cells.

Selenium protects the body's cells from attacks by free radicals. It is a component of a number of enzymes that have an antioxidant and therefore cell-protective effect.

Vitamin C is the classic tip for a cold. This vitamin supports the immune system. It has an antioxidant effect, i.e. it intercepts free radicals and thus protects the cells from damage. It also activates so-called scavenger cells (including macrophages) of the immune system. Numerous studies show that a high vitamin C intake shortens the duration of a cold and reduces the risk of catching a cold.

Vitamin A is important for maintaining the skin and mucous membranes, the external barriers against pathogens. The precursor beta-carotene also has an antioxidant effect.

Vitamin D occupies a special position among the vitamins, as it can be produced in the skin itself with the help of sunlight. It is important for the normal functioning of the immune system as it supports the phagocytes of the innate immune system and the lymphocytes of the acquired immune system. It is also involved in the formation of anti-inflammatory proteins.

Iron is important for the immune defense. A lack of iron manifests itself in an impairment of the cellular immune defense. The so-called scavenger cells (including macrophages) are less active and the body produces fewer lymphocytes and antibodies.

Tip: Vitamin C promotes iron absorption in the body

Our Immune Essentials contain all the vitamins and minerals mentioned above as well as the eight B vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin K, copper and magnesium to strengthen the immune system.

Tips on how to strengthen your immune system

  1. Make sure you eat a healthy and balanced diet
  2. Move a lot and exercise
  3. Drink enough water or unsweetened tea
  4. Get enough sleep (7-8 hours a day)
  5. Avoid stress
  6. Wash your hands regularly
  7. Avoid large crowds
  8. Take alternating showers and go to the sauna

What weakens the immune system

  1. Smoking and alcohol consumption
  2. An unbalanced diet
  3. Malnutrition, e.g. in the case of eating disorders
  4. Lack of exercise
  5. Physical overload, e.g. in competitive sports
  6. Immunodeficiencies
  7. Lack of sleep
  8. Medication that downregulates the immune system (immunosuppressants)
  9. Stress
  10. Diseases such as cancer and infections such as HIV

Does the immune system get stronger after an infection?

Many pathogens train our immune defenses. This is because, as mentioned above, the acquired immune system can memorize certain pathogens and act more quickly against these intruders in the event of another infection. As the acquired immune system always has to "get to know" the pathogens before it can specifically fight them, the immune response takes a little longer.

Interesting fact: Vaccinations also work according to this principle. The vaccine introduces killed or weakened pathogens into the body, but these do not make you ill. The body reacts by producing antibodies and memory cells. In the event of renewed contact with the real pathogen, the immune system can react immediately.

How can I rebuild my immune system?

After recovering from an infection, it is important to eat a balanced diet. An adequate supply of vitamin D and C is particularly useful. You should also take care to resume exercise slowly, avoid stress and get enough sleep.

Taking antibiotics also destroys many beneficial intestinal bacteria and thus weakens the intestinal barrier, which in turn leads to an increased susceptibility to infections. It is therefore advisable to consume probiotic foods after or during antibiotics to help rebuild the intestinal flora.

Probiotic foods include sauerkraut, sour milk products such as yogurt, apple cider vinegar, pickled cucumber, tempeh and sourdough bread.

Boost your immune system: Which fruit is best? The most popular fruit in Germany is the apple. This is no coincidence: the sweet fruit not only tastes really delicious, but is also very healthy. An apple contains around 10-20% of the daily vitamin C requirement. An apple is therefore ideal for activating the immune system. It's not for nothing that the famous saying goes: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away". It is important that you eat the apple with the skin, as there are far more healthy ingredients, such as phytochemicals, in the skin than in the flesh. The apple should only be washed thoroughly beforehand.

Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and lemons are also real immune boosters. They contain large amounts of vitamin C and antioxidants. Oranges in particular can cover 80% of the average daily requirement with around 80 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams of oranges. Oranges and grapefruits are also great for boosting the immune system in the form of fruit juices. It is important to ensure that juices are made from 100% fruit.

Berries are little all-rounders. Despite their very low calorie content, they contain lots of vitamins (especially vitamin C), minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. Due to their low calorie content, berries are also ideal for losing weight. As a general rule, the darker the berry, the more red pigments it contains, especially anthocyanins and flavonoids.

Which home remedies strengthen the immune system?

In addition to the types of fruit mentioned above, a number of other foods are also responsible for a healthy immune system.

These include spices such as ginger and turmeric. Ginger has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Due to its digestive effect, ginger also has a positive influence on the gastrointestinal tract, which in turn inhibits the growth of certain viruses and bacteria. The curcumin contained in turmeric plays a key role in the tuber's positive effect. Curcumin is a secondary plant substance and has antioxidant properties. It therefore protects the cells from free radical damage and oxidative stress. You can find out more about the two household remedies in the blog posts 3 reasons why you should eat more ginger and Turmeric - how healthy is the yellow root?

Nuts, seeds and oatmeal are also important for supporting the body's own defenses. These foods are rich in zinc and vitamin E. As already mentioned, zinc plays a crucial role in the immune system. Vitamin E is a natural antioxidant that protects cells from attack.

Protein-rich foods are also important for strengthening the immune system. This is because the immune system needs amino acids to form defense cells. However, the supply is quickly depleted, as billions of immune cells and antibodies have to be produced within a very short time during an infection. During an acute infection, our protein requirement therefore increases by up to 40 %.