The immune system is our body’s defence mechanism and when it is in peak condition, at best we avoid symptoms of illness completely, at worst we put together an effective fighting force quickly so that illness is less severe and shorter lived. Winter is the season of colds and flu, frequently posing challenges to and testing the strength of our immune systems.
Micro organisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses enter our body continuously, often causing no harm, but when conditions are right the invading organism can multiply and reproduce in turn stimulating our immune response. These specialised cells are transported throughout the body by the blood stream and are found in large numbers in the gut, lymph nodes, thymus gland, spleen and tissue fluids.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) our immunity is provided by wei qi, circulating in the outer layers of our body, when strong and vital it protects us from invading pathogens. These include all of those listed above such as bacteria and viruses plus the elements – ie, cold, damp, heat, wind. Wei qi is inextricably linked to our lung energy and this in turn is paired with the large intestine so there are many similarities between the western and eastern views of how our immune system functions.
As our immune system effectively empties our body’s dustbin, in general it is impeded by any factors that inhibit this natural process of elimination. As such the main enemies of the immune system are: smoke, stress, pollution, pesticides, radiation, foods containing additives, hormones, refined sugar and carbs, poor mineral/vitamin balance, being under/overweight and unhappiness. As it determines how fast we age, keeps us healthy and has the power to destroy cancer cells before they’re formed it is well worth taking great care of our immune system by providing the ideal environment for it to function well.
This can be particularly challenging at this time of year, as we head into party season it is easy to overload and tax our immune system, leaving us feeling run down and unwell. To be kind to yourself and avoid this scenario try cutting down on stimulants such tea, coffee and alcohol, stay away from refined sugar and carbs, get 6 – 8 hours sleep a night and take regular exercise. Give your body the best chance to stay well this winter!