The immune system is on a lifelong mission against invaders. Strengthening the immune system is therefore one of our most important tasks. Especially during pregnancy. How can you strengthen your defenses? Which measures are effective? What belongs more to the realm of myths?
In order to support the immune system in its work in the best possible way, here are a few basics about the fascinating work of the body’s defenses.
Table of contents
What Is Actually Understood By The Immune System?
The immune system is nothing more than a collection of colorless blood cells. These cells, the leukocytes, are perfectly organized for a permanent fight against pathogens from outside. Their strength and interaction determine the outbreak and course of a disease.
Each subspecies of these white blood cells has specific tasks:
They are involved in inflammatory reactions; form first line of defense against pathogens and parasites.
The specialists, trainers and messengers in the mission against certain types of pathogens in each case (specific defense).
They belong to the phagocytes, eliminate bacteria and dead cellular debris.
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The Difference Between An Innate And An Acquired Immune System
The innate immune system exists from birth. It is composed of various phagocytes that do most of the defense (90%). However, they are not good at recognizing specific enemies.
This is where the acquired defense system helps. These are the specialists, the lymphocytes. They can specifically fight off a certain type of enemy. For example, measles viruses. Provided they have already stored the surface of a measles virus in their extensive library of enemies.
Then they quickly train appropriate fighters to fight exactly these viruses. This is the reason why a measles disease or vaccination makes the body immune to measles for life.
Other Players In The Immune System
To better understand the work of the immune system, here is a brief introduction to the smallest players:
These are tiny protein molecules with different tasks for the specific defense against antigens. Antigens are foreign substances and cells. Antibodies attach themselves to the hostile cells according to the lock-and-key principle and thus render them harmless.
Messenger substances (mediators)
They are somewhat similar to hormones and are called interleukins or interferons. They are responsible for smooth communication within the immune system.
These are special messenger substances that are significantly involved in the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Physiologically, histamines are involved in inflammatory reactions. In the case of an allergy, they cause itching, swelling and a drop in blood pressure, among other things.
The Immune System Of Mother And Child During Pregnancy
The so-called neonatal immune system is currently the subject of intensive research. Only a few years ago it was discovered that the defense system of the unborn child is much more developed than previously assumed.
The antibodies that the unborn child receives from the mother via the blood from about the 29th week of pregnancy are referred to as nest protection. Breastfeeding gives the child additional protection in the first period. This surrogate immunity becomes weaker and weaker from the third or fourth month after birth.
From the fourth month, the baby begins to create its own “library of enemies”. However, the newborn can only be protected against the diseases that the mother has actively undergone before or against which she has been vaccinated.
From month four, the child begins to train its immunological memory. To do this, babies go through an average of ten infections a year until the age of two. Most of these are colds. Building the immune system also means getting sick. Strengthening the immune system, through contact with many different (preferably relatively harmless) pathogens.
Disorders And Diseases Of The Immune System
For a functioning body defense, countless factors must work together smoothly. If only one small unit no longer functions, this can already have serious effects on health.
There are diseases, such as AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome caused by the HI virus) or leukemia (colloquially blood cancer), which attack the immune system itself and put it out of action.
Then there is the area of allergic diseases, in which the immune system is out of control. Here it either reacts too strongly, it reacts to harmless foreign substances or even to its own cells (autoimmune diseases).
The most common diseases are those that occur because the immune system is not strong enough. For example, when someone has a cold all the time. Building up the immune system and strengthening the defense system are the best therapeutic approaches.
Constantly Having A Cold? Build Up The Immune System, That’s How It Works!
A sure sign that the immune system is weakening are frequent infections, mostly colds or flu-like infections. Everyone knows this under the motto “there I have caught something again”. The cause can of course be a serious disorder in the immune system or an illness that places a great strain on the immune system.
In most cases, however, it is rather a general weakening of the immune system due to an unhealthy lifestyle. This primarily includes the areas of nutrition, exercise and the psyche.
This sounds banal, but it offers excellent starting points for strengthening the immune system. And of course this is especially important for you during pregnancy. Firstly, because you are only allowed to take a limited amount of medication in the event of an illness.
Secondly, because you need a lot of energy for the pregnancy and can transfer this to the unborn child.
Strengthen The Immune System In Everyday Life
So start paying more attention to your immune system early enough. If possible, even before the beginning of a possible pregnancy. The four areas you should focus on are nutrition, sleep, exercise and lifestyle.
That’s right, basically everything in your life has an impact on your immune system.
Build Your Immune System Through Nutrition
Instead of ambitiously eating as many superfoods as possible every day, take a critical look at your daily diet. Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, eat as varied and fresh as possible.
The gut is a center of the immune system. Gut health is a priority. His favorite foods are high in fiber, which means vegetables, fruits and whole grains (prebiotics). He has a special preference for fermented foods: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha or tempeh (probiotics).
Prepare your own food from fresh ingredients whenever possible. There are hardly any vital substances left in ready-made meals and also in many restaurant dishes.
Strengthen The Immune System Through Undisturbed Sleep
Even one too short or restless night has a negative effect on the immune system. Sleeping regularly and for a sufficiently long time should therefore be a priority!
Build A Strong Immune System Through Exercise
Exercise makes the immune cells dance. It is best to run, walk or cycle in the fresh air every day. No matter what the weather is like. This also ensures sufficient vitamin D at the same time. Disciplined athletes don’t catch colds all the time.
However, those who overdo it with their training achieve the opposite. It is true that the immune cells multiply during training. However, if the exertion is too strong, the number of cells drops afterwards even below the initial value.
A Healthy Lifestyle For A Strong Defense
Avoid toxins as much as possible! Smoking, alcohol, but also a high sugar consumption burden the body in its entire performance. Strengthening the immune system also means cutting out some things and giving new better habits a chance.
Negative stress is also harmful to the body’s defenses. Therefore, try to solve mental conflicts. Above all, look for a suitable relaxation method that will allow you to “come down” after a stressful day.
Strengthen The Immune System: Take Medication When You Have A Cold?
Especially during pregnancy, viral infections, such as colds or colds, often cause discomfort. The body is distracted and the opportunity seems favorable for the viruses.
But of course, pregnant women should be cautious about taking medication every time they have a cold. Especially with a cold home remedies help at least as well. If they are combined with measures to strengthen the immune system at the same time, the cold will be forgotten in a few days.
The best measures are those that build up your immune system, and do so preventively. Be it with an appropriate diet, with additional natural remedies or adapted behavior.
For example, washing your hands frequently during the peak infection season has been shown to be more effective in protecting against a cold than taking vitamin supplements.
Strengthening The Immune System With Dietary Supplements And Plant Power
Medications and cures that strengthen the immune system are usually vitamins, minerals or special plant extracts. Pregnant women should also exercise caution with these supposedly harmless remedies. Higher doses over a longer period of time must absolutely be clarified by a doctor beforehand.
Vitamin C preparations are taken most frequently when it comes to strengthening the immune system. Also zinc and propolis are well-tried means to strengthen the immune system. Building up the immune system, preventing colds or shortening the cold season: preparations containing echinacea (coneflower) are often taken for this purpose.
In the meantime, there are actually some studies on this, which indicate that a preventive Echinacea cure reduces the probability of a cold a little. It also seems that a shortening of the cold, by one to two days, can be achieved.
However, this only applies to viral infections, not bacterial ones. According to Embryotox, short-term use during pregnancy is tolerable. It should not be extracts in alcohol. Do not use in case of allergy to daisies!
Another starting point is to upgrade the protective barrier of the mucous membranes with probiotics. This is still best done with the appropriate foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut and leek vegetables. Build up the immune system by adding something from this range of foods to your diet every day.
What Weakens The Immune System?
During the cold season, infections are more frequent. This is due to the mucous membranes. The mucous membranes dry out due to the frequent alternation of cold, wet air and warm, dry heating air.
This barrier protection then fails and the viruses reach their target more easily. This effect can be somewhat alleviated with humidifiers in the office and at home. When the body cools down, the activity of the immune cells decreases. Thus, it is not the cold that causes the common cold, but the immune defense slowed down by cold.
Gum inflammation and tooth decay increase susceptibility to colds. Another measure to strengthen the immune system is careful dental care and regular visits to the dentist.
Another factor is stress. While short stress, really fires up the body’s defenses, chronic stress has a debilitating effect. This negative stress is often caused by psychologically stressful situations over a long period of time:
- Problems in the partnership.
- Problems or mobbing at work.
- Money problems.
- Little or no social contact, loneliness.
These are the most common causes of chronic stress conditions. Stress hormones have an inhibitory effect on the number and activity of immune cells.
Strengthening The Immune System – Persistent Myths
Can the immune system be built up, with a cold and warm alternating shower? Of course, there are studies on this. The result is interesting. The alternating showerers felt more vital and stronger than the warm showerers. However, they did not have fewer infections in comparison.
Building the immune system with regular sauna sessions? For 25 years, a study statistically compared sauna-goers with people who did not go to the sauna.
With two to three sauna visits a week, the sauna users were found to have a lower risk of serious respiratory diseases. However, sauna visits and exercise during a cold do not help to strengthen the immune system. On the contrary, they can prolong the duration of the illness.
Strengthen the immune system with vitamin C preparations. Studies have shown that taking vitamin C can only strengthen the immune system in athletes. In contrast, there were no positive effects on the body’s immune system in people who were less physically active.