The immune system of our body protects us – mostly reliably and usually unnoticed – from pathogens. Doctors speak of immune deficiency or immune deficiency when the body’s own defenses are pathological or not fully functional.
Symptoms of the immune deficiency are above all an increased susceptibility to infection and – in the case of an infection – a protracted or complicated course of the disease. On average, every German has a respiratory infection such as cough, bronchitis, or runny nose around twice a year. If such diseases occur much more often and without an identifiable cause, there is a suspicion of a weak immune system.
Deficiency in the immune system can be congenital or acquired. In the congenital form, the development of the stem cells is usually disturbed or there is a lack of antibodies. More common, however, is the acquired immune deficiency. This leads to the fact that you get sick more often and more severely than other people. Typical causes of immune deficiency are:
- Infections, injuries, operations, transplants
- Cortisone therapy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy
- Diseases such as HIV infection, leukemia, or diabetes
- Removal of the spleen, tonsils, or appendix
- Unhealthy diet with a lack of vitamins or minerals, such as iron deficiency
- Heavy physical strain (physical work, competitive sports)
- Stress, emotional stress, depression
- Eating disorders such as anorexia or vomiting addiction
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Lack of sleep or trouble sleeping
If necessary, your doctor will take some blood to help make a diagnosis of immune deficiency. The concentration of white blood cells is particularly meaningful for determining the functionality of the unspecific immune system. One microliter of blood in healthy people usually contains between 4,000 and 8,000 leukocytes.
A blood test can also demonstrate a weak immune system as a result of a disruption of the specific immune system. For this immune status, for example, a complete blood count is made, in which, among other things, antibodies (immunoglobulins), certain proteins or immune cells are determined more precisely.
As a rule, a weak immune system is a weakened, unspecific immune system. In these cases, it is usually sufficient to follow the recommendations given under “Self-help in the case of immune deficiency”. It is different from a defensive weakness of the specific immune system. This is mostly caused by illness or medication. Here the doctor will usually treat the causative illness and/or change medication.
Vaccination against influenza and other infectious diseases such as hepatitis A and hepatitis B, diphtheria, pneumococci, or tetanus is recommended, especially in the case of specific immune deficiencies. These vaccines belong to the group of dead vaccines and can usually be given to people with weak immune systems without the risk of undesirable side effects. There is a certain risk with vaccinations with so-called live vaccines such as measles, mumps, rubella, or chickenpox. It is best to ask your family doctor about this.
Self-Help Against A Weak Immune System
Strengthening the immune system of largely healthy people benefits above all from exercise and a fresh, varied diet with many vitamins and minerals. In the following, you will find many suggestions for effectively strengthening the immune system.
Healthy, Fresh Foods Strengthen The Immune System
Unless a disease is the cause or consequence of the immune deficiency, nutrition comes first. To effectively strengthen the immune system, you hardly need to know anything about food. And expensive fashion foods such as chia, quinoa, Kamut, or goji berries are also not a must. Just eat as fresh and varied as possible. Rely on local fruit and vegetables as well as fish and whole-grain products. They provide a wide variety of vitamins, fiber, minerals, and trace elements that strengthen the immune system.
Cook yourself as often as possible. And avoid industrially pretreated food. All experts agree: the fresher, more natural, and varied the diet, the better it is for the immune system. This form of nutrition very often has another advantage: You maintain your weight or even lose it – and also reduce the risk of diet-related diseases such as diabetes and high cholesterol levels.
Vitamins A, C, D, and E as well as the trace elements iron and zinc are particularly important for the immune system. They are contained in fresh fruit and vegetables, for example, in a composition that is very useful for the organism.
Exercise Strengthens The Immune System
Numerous studies have shown that exercise strengthens the immune system. Just 20 minutes a day – preferably in the fresh air – gets the immune system going much better. Exercise is a turbo for healing and prevention – and can even strengthen the immune system so much that the risk of developing cancer is almost halved.
Relaxation and sleep also play an important role. Relaxation exercises such as simple breathing techniques, meditation or autogenic training not only reduce stress (and thus relieve the body’s own defenses), but also strengthen the immune system directly. The immune system is particularly active at night while we are sleeping. In the topic special “Healthy Sleep” you will find many suggestions with which you can get rid of sleep problems and prevent sleep disorders.
Strengthen The Immune System With Home Remedies
Traditional medicine knows many home remedies that you can use to strengthen the immune system. These are for example:
- A cold shower in the morning. First, take a warm shower for 5 minutes, then briefly shower with cold water from the outside towards the middle of the body (heart).
- Kneipp applications, e.g. treading water
- Sauna and plunge pool (if you have blood pressure problems or cardiovascular diseases, consult your doctor as a precaution.)
- Drink herbal tea, for example with orchid, taiga root, coneflower, ginseng, lime blossom, or elderflower
- Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol put a strain on the immune system – and also disrupt the deep sleep that is so important for the regeneration of the body’s defenses.
- Breastfeeding protects the baby from infections because it receives certain antibodies from the mother with the milk.
As a rule, healthy people do not need medication for immune system weaknesses or nutritional supplements that are supposed to strengthen the immune system. Nevertheless, herbal remedies and nutritional supplements containing minerals are particularly popular. The benefits for largely healthy people have not been adequately proven from a medical point of view. This applies, for example, to the intake of herbal preparations, drops, or tablets that stimulate the body’s unspecific defenses. The preparations often contain extracts from Echinacea (coneflower), Eupatorium (water feast), Thuja (tree of life), Baptisia (indigo), or Eleutherococcus. The ingredients are also offered as homeopathic medicines.
In consultation with the doctor, vitamin preparations or minerals can be useful. However, this only applies in the event of a vitamin deficiency or deficiency in minerals. Preferably, you should take in vitamins and minerals fresh with your food. Taking a zinc supplement can help prevent colds. But not according to the principle: “A lot helps a lot”. More than 100 mg of zinc a day can lead to vomiting and diarrhea.
The best way to prevent weak immune systems is to heed the recommendations given under “Self-help against weak immune systems”. If you have colds or infectious diseases more than average (more than 2 to 3 times a year), you should have the cause examined by a doctor. This is especially true for sick and debilitated people, senior citizens, and children of all ages.
Function Of The Immune System
The body has a complicated defense system that intercepts and destroys invading microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi) and substances produced by pathogens. A distinction is made between two systems that work closely together.
Nonspecific And Specific Immune System
The unspecific immune system is generally directed against invading pathogens and tries to kill them. This happens regardless of the type of pathogen and the triggering disease.
The specific immune system acts much more specifically against germs. Depending on the structure of the respective pathogen, it forms special antidotes (so-called antibodies), with the help of which the disease is overcome. In some cases, a kind of memory of the disease that has been overcome remains in the cells of the specific immune system, so that the effective antibodies can be produced immediately upon renewed contact. With such diseases, immunity is built up upon initial contact. You usually only get these diseases once in a lifetime. Typical examples are measles, mumps, and rubella. The principle of vaccination is also based on the functioning of the specific defense system. Here, too, special antibodies are formed that prevent disease.
Immune System And Flu
In the case of certain virus infections such as flu, the virus changes its shape over the course of a year so that the body no longer recognizes it the next time it comes into contact and becomes ill again because it first has to produce new antibodies. Because of this variability of the flu virus, there is still no long-lasting flu vaccination. Rather, the flu vaccine has to be redesigned every season on suspicion.