• Question: How can we make our immune system stronger?

    Asked by kamran to Barbara, Matt, Ravinder, Sophie, Tristan on 17 Mar 2015.
    • Photo: Sophie Robinson

      Sophie Robinson answered on 17 Mar 2015:

      Hi kamran

      The is no definitive answer to this question. Although lifestyle is thought to impact your immune system there is still no solid evidence for this. However the following this are likely to help:

      Don’t smoke
      eat a healthy diet low in saturated fat
      control your blood pressure
      only drink alcohol in moderation
      get adequate sleep

      I hope that helps!

    • Photo: Barbara Shih

      Barbara Shih answered on 17 Mar 2015:

      As mentioned by Sophie, there isn’t really a definitive answer to this question. General healthy life style is the best way forward for a healthy immune system (exercise, adequate sleep, balanced diet, no smoking/drinking..etc).

      It’s an interesting question/concept that you mentioned. We often consider that we can train up our body to become “stronger”. However, the immune system is more about a delicate balance between the amount that it react to things. We want an efficient immune response against diseases and illnesses, yet at the same time we don’t want our immune system to react to normal harmless things (e.g. nut allergy or hay fever). Some people have immune system that over-reacts and attack their own proteins or cells (known as “autoimmune disease”, examples include rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and psoriasis). You can probably consider both allergy and autoimmune disease being “the immune system is too strong/over-reacting”.

      We have observed increased number of people having allergies. Possible reasons that have been suggested include:

      1) Children are not being exposed to enough bacteria when they were developing as an infant
      2) We eat more processed food.
      3) Increased pollution.
      4) Not enough sun. Because I work on the field of UV (ultraviolet radiation from the sun), I have heard studies that reduced allergic responses by exposing mice to small amount of UV. Some autoimmune disease are also helped by UV (such as psoriasis).

      So pretty much exactly what Sophie said, maybe go out in the sun a little bit every now and then, and don’t use anti-bacterial cleaner on everything.

    • Photo: Matthew Moore

      Matthew Moore answered on 18 Mar 2015:

      Vaccines! Obviously peoples immune systems vary and a healthy lifestyle, particular exercise and not smoking etc can ‘boost’ the immune system, but the definite way to do this is vaccines.

      Vaccines present the immune system with the antigens of a particular bug, the molecules present on its surface which make it possible to identify it. Whether this is a virus or bacteria, these will be presented to the immune system by introducing an inactivated form of the bug (a dead one) or even just the antigens themselves.

      The immune system responds as if it was an actual infection producing specialised cells which target the bug for destruction and then destroy it. Once these specialised cells have been refined and made perfect for this particular bug they’re stored. That means next time you come into contact with the bug the immune system ‘remembers’ it and mounts a huge response, bigger than the first one to destroy it immediately without having to first ‘learn’ it.

      It’s not clear but Ebola survivors are probably immune to Ebola, they couldn’t get it again. This is how the immune system usually works, but it kills most people before their immune systems can learn how to combat it!