As we head toward Autumn and cooler weather, our attention often turns to preventing illnesses we're likely to face.  Those of us who ride city busses and subways are particularly susceptible, especially in cities like San Francisco where commuters pack BART cars like sardines. Fortunately, the body's immune system is our first line of defense against attacks from germs, bacteria, and viral agents like the flu. 

 Once infected, the immune system detects these harmful invaders and begins the process of isolating and destroying them. But the immune system only works if it has the fuel that it needs. Like a large city or even a global economy, the, the immune system is called a "system" because it is comprised of various organs and sub systems that work together in harmony (Weinberg, 2011). The major components of the immune system include:

  • Thymus
  • Spleen
  • Lymph system
  • Bone marrow
  • White blood cells
  • Antibodies
  • Complement system (30 specific proteins that circulate in our blood plasma).
  • Hormones

 Each part of the immune system depends upon proper nutrition to function at peak efficiency. If even one component of the immune system underperforms, it leaves the entire system at risk of failing, and failed immune system leaves the body with little protection from attack. Unfortunately, many of us consume diets that fail to provide even the minimum nutritional levels our immune systems require to function optimally. This, combined with other systemic factors, leave our bodies more susceptible to attack. 

 Citizens of many developed countries like the US are eating diets that are high in saturated fats and sugars and low in vitamins and minerals. Conversely, many citizens of underdeveloped nations are suffering from malnutrition and even near starvation. Regardless of whether the immune system is affected by too much of the wrong food, or not enough of any food, both conditions can result in immune systems that are ill prepared to ward off this season’s menace.

Fortunately, you don't have to let your immune system fail you when you need it the most and there are steps you can take to protect yourself. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, 2012), the most important steps you take are to wash your hands frequently, and keep your hands away from your nose and mouth.  Also, whenever possible, stay home when you are sick - if you have employer provided sick days, USE THEM!  Also, be sure you are giving your body's immune system what it needs to operate a peak efficiency by getting the right amount of sleep, and eating only healthy, unprocessed foods.  While often easier said than done, embracing a healthier lifestyle will help you prepare for the flu season while providing you with an overall sense of well being.

References:

CDC - Seasonal Influenza (Flu) - Preventing the Flu: Good Health Habits Can Help Stop Germs. (n.d.). Retrieved October 26, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm

Weinberg, G. (2011). An Introduction to General Systems Thinking. Weinberg & Weinberg.

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Your Body Wants To Fight The Flu, But You May be Fighting Your Body by Brenda Rivera-Billings M.Sc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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