The immune system, which is made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs, defends people against germs and microorganisms every day, 24-7. Our bodies have enemies, which we are unable to see and may not even be aware they exist. Without a healthy immune system, people constantly would be sick.
Overall, the immune system is comprised of various parts that serve various functions, from recognizing and acting against the invaders, or antigens, to working throughout the body to prevent infection, and finally to remembering antigens from previous attacks in order to put up an even stronger fight in future instances.
Proper maintenance for a good immune system.
Many natural cellular processes in our bodies create waste, some of which form free radicals. If these highly reactive substances aren’t neutralized, they can cause damage in our bodies which can lead to inflammation. A consistently high state of inflammation is considered to be a precursor to many common conditions in older adults, such as cardiovascular disease and various types of cancer.
The good news is that our bodies create antioxidants to balance this damage out! Antioxidants bind to free radicals and suppress their damage. However, since we are exposed to additional free radicals from pollution, cigarette smoke, pesticides, radiation, and some processed foods, we need to also take in additional antioxidants to neutralize the free radicals.
Add More Antioxidants
Antioxidants are found in many plant foods. Here are a few:
- Vitamin C is found in citrus, kiwi, strawberries, bell peppers and broccoli.
- Vitamin E is contained in almonds, avocados and olive oil.
- Beta-carotene creates vitamin A, important for vision and bone health. Good sources are carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, chard and papayas.
- Lycopene is found in red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, papaya and watermelon.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in dark green leafy veggies like spinach, kale, collard greens and broccoli and may help slow the progress of age-related macular degeneration in the eyes.
- Anthocyanins are found in blue and purple foods like blueberries, raspberries, plums, pomegranates, eggplant, and red cabbage.
Benefits of a Good Immune System
Your immune system is in a constant cycle of repair
Hormones produced by your adrenal glands, particularly the stress hormone cortisol, play an important role in regulating your immune system. If your cortisol levels go too low or too high, this can lead to regular infections, chronic inflammation, autoimmune diseases or allergies. Maintaining a balanced level of cortisol is an important part of staying healthy.
One of cortisol’s many functions is to reduce inflammation. When your body encounters a pathogen, the immune system responds by quickly attacking it. This causes inflammation, which is often a good thing (it means the immune system is working). In those with healthy immune and endocrine systems, cortisol works to moderate the inflammation caused by an immune system response, but it does not eliminate it.
As an example, did you ever consider what happens when you get a paper cut?
It’s important that your body closes the cut (the wound) so you avoid getting an infection. There are three stages of wound healing to repair the cut. The stages are kind of like what you might go through if you tried to build a house.
First, the site must be prepped and planning begins. Special cells called neutrophils are called in to help. They attract other immune cells and help trap invaders. During this inflammatory phase, your body stops blood loss by clotting the blood and reducing blood flow. Lots of “supervisors” like proteins, blood cells, and antibodies are sent to the site. Macrophages are a critical part of this wound healing team. They come to clean up the site before the building can start. They eat the dead skin cells and other waste around the area.
Once the wound is free of germs, the waste is cleaned up, and the skin growth started, the macrophages and neutrophils start to leave. It’s important they leave because having inflammation for long periods of time can cause serious problems.
Second, your body starts rebuilding the lost tissue and replacing broken blood vessels with fresh ones. Cells called fibroblasts provide the building materials, to repair the tissue.
New vessels are added that can help more blood reach the wound, and special cells start adding substances in preparation for more cells to be added. Cells start gathering at the edges of the wound and more and more are added until they reach the cells gathering at the other side of the wound.
In the final stage of wound healing, a lot of repairing occurs. Special proteins that were needed for early stages of healing are replaced and used for healing. A tissue called collagen is important for strength, durability, and scarring of your new skin. These are the final touches put on the wound to make sure everything is in the right place. After all the work is done, you now have fully repaired skin!
Improving Blood Flow to Speed Up Wound Healing
Several factors can slow down the wound healing process including insufficient blood flow to the skin. According to most doctors, poor blood supply can be due to a few reasons such as blocked or narrowed blood vessels and low blood pressure. Here are some ways you can improve blood flow to speed up wound healing:
Apply heat to the area
An effective way to increase blood flow is to apply heat to the wound. Whether you put the affected area in a bucket of warm water or place a heating pad on it, you can increase blood flow to the skin. Contra Costa Health Services recommends keeping heat on the wound for 15 to 30 minutes three to four times a day.
If you are a smoker, now may be the time to quit. According to Smokefree.gov, nicotine tightens blood vessels, which prevents essential nutrients from reaching a wound. If nutrients can’t get to an injury, it will severely slow down the healing process.
Elevate the wound
Since swelling restricts blood flow, it is important to keep your wound elevated. For example, if the wound is on your leg, place a pillow or two under it while you lie down. Contra Costa Health Services suggests elevating the area three to four times a day for 15 to 30 minutes.
When you are recovering from a wound, exercise is probably one of the last things you want to think about. However, regular physical activity can improve blood circulation. Include both aerobic and strength training exercises in your workout routine. For example, you could try walking, swimming, biking or even dancing. If you have trouble finding motivation to exercise, ask a friend to do it with you.
Eat a healthy diet
If you want to improve blood flow, it is important to eat a nutritious diet. Nutrients that promote healthy blood flow include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C and E, magnesium and folate. Good foods to add to your diet include salmon, oranges, carrots, walnuts, bell peppers and dark leafy vegetables.
Most of us take our natural wound healing abilities for granted. You scrape your knee, clean it and wait for it to heal on its own. It seems pretty simple, right? Not exactly. The truth is, what goes on during the healing process is a complex process that requires a healthy blood flow to deliver the oxygen and nutrients necessary to heal, and if this process is interrupted, it can slow or prevent healing entirely.