Boost your adaptive immune system today
Posted on 1 April 2023
Did you know that your immune system comprises two parts: the innate system that you’re born with, and the adaptive immune system, which develops over time to protect you against specific disease-causing pathogens. World Health Day on 7 April is a good time to learn how to boost this all-important function.
What is the adaptive immune system?
Each of us is born with an innate immune system, which comprises antibodies (immunoglobulins) that are ready to fight off infections. However, says Dr Tshegofatso Mabelane, an allergist and physician at Mediclinic Morningside, says these immunoglobulins attack only general germs; they are little use against specific viruses and bacteria. For that, you need the adaptive immune system. “Think of having a vaccine against measles. These vaccines are intended to introduce specific pathogens into your body, so your immune system can build antibodies that will recognise them the next time they’re encountered. These antibodies will be highly targeted,” Dr Mabelane explains. “Think of the innate immune system as the general police force, and the adaptive immune system as the homicide squad.”
What compromises the adaptive immune system?
Dr Mabelane says in some circumstances, the adaptive immune system may come under strain. “Nutrition plays a vital role, as your adaptive immune system will suffer if you’re not receiving the right vitamins, minerals and macronutrients in sufficient amounts through your diet,” she adds. In the same vein, exercise and sleep have a part to play.
The system may also come under strain if you’re taking particular types of medication, including steroids or cancer-fighting drugs, or if you’re a smoker. Certain conditions may compromise your system, too. Cancer, diabetes and HIV fall under this banner.
Finally, says Dr Mabelane, some people have inborn primary immune deficiency; in other words, they’re born without the ability to create those crucial pathogen-fighting cells.
Can you boost your adaptive immune system?
The good news is that it’s possible to bolster your adaptive immune system, ensuring you’re more resilient to the viruses, bacteria and other pathogens you encounter every day.
The most basic way of doing this, according to Dr Mabelane, is to check your diet. “Make sure you have a good intake of vitamins, specifically those that help to build immunity: C, D and zinc.” This means eating more foods like citrus fruits, broccoli and strawberries to get vitamin C, spending a little time outdoors to manufacture vitamin D – or consuming more oily fish, fortified foods and egg yolks – and obtaining zinc from red meat, poultry, nuts and pulses.
Exercise also helps, as it functions like an antioxidant, breaking down the inflammatory chemicals your body produces daily. “This is important, as an inflammatory environment may place strain on your adaptive immune system,” says Dr Mabelane.
Ensure you’re sleeping well, because this is the time when your body replaces and repairs damaged cells.
It’s also a good idea to drink at least two to three litres of water a day, not only because this helps to flush out toxins and impurities, but because water makes up a good deal of the lymphatic fluid that plays a role in fighting infections.
Dr Mabelane also recommends taking a good probiotic. Although not backed by research, anecdotal evidence suggests that by boosting the population of good bacteria in your gut, probiotics can support immunity and contribute to your overall health and wellness.