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Infectious diseases

Your immune system: keep it fit to fight

Your body is always fighting to stay healthy. Fortunately, you have an amazing defense mechanism that's ready to battle enemies whenever needed. That mechanism is the immune system and it's always on alert, ready to attack anything that tries to invade and compromise your health.

Those invaders could be viruses, bacteria, parasites or fungi, which can cause infections and illness. They're around us all the time and can be spread through:

  • Air — in crowded places, for example
  • Water
  • Food
  • Insects
  • Skin contact — like shaking hands or kissing
  • Sex
  • Blood

Since you can pick up germs from just about anywhere, your immune system has a lot to deal with. And that's why it's important to help keep it strong and healthy.

Fighting the good fight

Your immune system is an incredibly complex network involving organs, tissues, specialized cells, and proteins. Working together, these elements try to stop potentially infectious invaders in a couple of ways:

  • Plays defense. The first thing your immune system does is to act as a barrier to try to prevent germs from getting into your body. Not everything gets stopped, though, so when something does get through, it gets very active.
  • Goes on the attack. Your immune system goes on the attack by producing specialized proteins, powerful chemicals and white blood cells designed to combat invaders. These all work together to target the specific invader and destroy it before it can severely affect your health.

Normally your immune system does a great job of defending you. But, unfortunately, it doesn't win all the battles.

When the bad guys win

Keeping your immune system healthy is important because a flaw can mean you get hit with a disease. These diseases can be anything from a relatively harmless and common illness (like a cold) or allergic reaction to serious conditions.

These serious immune system disorders include:

Allergic reactions and hypersensitivity to specific substances are very common immune system responses. An allergic reaction can consist of sneezing and skin irritation to potentially fatal consequences such as swelling in your throat that constricts your airway.

Ways to help maintain your immune system

Your immune system is very complex in how it handles incoming health threats. And there's lots of promising research that shows the common-sense approach to good health you're already taking could help keep your immune system strong:

  • Avoid infection — wash your hands and cook meat thoroughly
  • Get plenty of exercise — walk, run, whatever activities you enjoy
  • Get good quality sleep — take time to rest and rejuvenate
  • Watch your weight — do what you can to avoid getting overweight
  • Manage stress — use relaxation techniques (yoga, tai chi, meditation) and laughter to help deal with stress
  • Make healthy choicesdon't smoke, drink alcohol in moderation and keep your blood pressure in check
    • Eat to fight — keep on eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. And enrich your diet specifically with foods that contain antioxidant vitamins and nutrients, including:
    • Strawberries and blueberries
    • Broccoli
    • Tomatoes
    • Garlic
    • Green tea
    • Red wine/grapes
    • Beans and soybeans
    • Nuts
    • Cabbage
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