The defense network

The immune system is not an organ, but an organization. The defense cells work together in a clever way

The immune system is everywhere, is constantly in motion, is constantly learning, and even knows if we are feeling good or depressed. The network of defense consists of two departments, the non-specific and specific defense. The non-specific defense provides with macrophages. Neutrophil granulocytes the first line of defense. These phagocytes ingest everything that could harm the organism. Additionally inform. Activate other immune cells. The cells of the non-specific immune system are supported by the complement system, about twenty different protein compounds that can destroy foreign cells by perforating their outer envelope.

If the first line of defense fails to destroy the intruders, the specific immune system intervenes. It consists primarily of B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes. They are able to recognize almost any foreign substance (antigen) that enters the organism. Each individual lymphocyte recognizes only the substance in which it is specialized. For example, does a B-lymphocyte "have its" way? When the lymphocyte identifies an antigen, it produces antibodies that attach themselves to the antigen. The antibodies only fit that one particular antigen, just as a key only fits a very specific lock. After contact with its antigen, the lymphocyte divides and multiplies. Now there is a whole army of its kind, all of which react precisely to that one foreign substance. If the antigens are captured by the antibodies, the phagocytes recognize this and render them harmless.

Some of the lymphocytes develop into memory cells that remember their specific enemy. Even if it takes decades for them to reappear in the organism, they become active immediately. It is the memory cells that make us immune to a pathogen.

A third important group of defense cells are the natural killer cells. They do not attack specific antigens, but are mainly active against cancer cells. However, little is known about how these cells work.

The defense network
The defense network

Caution, danger of infection

Strengthen your defenses

Without the body's own defenses, we could only survive in a sterile environment. In autumn and winter, the immune system has to be particularly good at making pathogens harmless

Compared to the size of its task, the immune system doesn't do very much. If the hundreds of billions of immune cells could all be concentrated in one place, they would be no bigger than a grapefruit. But that's not what matters here, what matters is the perfect organization in which each cell takes on its own special task. With the help of messenger substances, they keep each other up to date, and they are in lively exchange with the nervous and hormonal systems. And they have only one goal: to detect intruders and render them harmless.

Millions of microorganisms attack us every day. Not all of them harm us, and some of those that could make us sick already fail at the first barriers: Skin and mucous membranes. If they succeed in penetrating further, countless white blood cells and antibodies oppose them.

Usually our defense cells recognize foreign material, our body has a highly sophisticated defense system. And yet the average person gets a cold two or three times a year. His nose runs, there is a scratchy throat, and if it gets really bad, an inflammation settles in the sinuses or maxillary sinuses.

Who are the attackers, what helps them, how do simple cold viruses manage to assert themselves?? What makes them so strong. Us so weak? It is worth knowing. Because those who learn to understand how the immune system works and what strengthens the body's defenses can also arm themselves better.

This makes us susceptible

Wet and cold weather
In cold weather, the body reduces blood flow to the outer skin and mucous membranes in order to focus all its energy on maintaining the temperature in the body's core. The mucous membranes of the nose. The throat, however, is an important first barrier against cold viruses. The worse they are supplied with blood, the fewer defense cells oppose the attackers. Wet and cold weather is the most challenging: high humidity makes the organism feel cool temperatures even lower than they actually are. In addition, viruses multiply better in high humidity.

Dry room air
Cold viruses can easily colonize and multiply on mucous membranes that are too dry. Relative humidity below 40 percent therefore opens the door to viruses. Heat up vigorously, intensify the effect even more. The warmer the room, the lower the humidity, and the more the body releases moisture into the environment – the mucous membranes of the nose and oral cavity dry out.

weakens the immune system, they say. This is true in principle, but not all stress is the same. Running at full speed for a short time does not harm the body. It only becomes critical when someone feels constantly overwhelmed, when tension becomes a permanent condition. It is also important how we assess stressful situations, according to psychoneuroimmunologists. Psychoneuro-immunology is a young branch of research that deals with the connection between psyche and immune system. According to new findings, the most harmful stressful situations are those that we feel powerless to influence.

Smoking and alcohol
Tobacco smoke weakens the body's defense against pathogens in several ways: the substances contained in it inhibit the mobility of the cilia in the respiratory tract, which are supposed to transport particles and pathogens that have entered the body back to the outside. Nicotine constricts the blood vessels, and the carbon monoxide contained in the smoke impedes the transport of oxygen into the body's cells. Both together worsen the supply of the defense cells on the mucous membranes. You can set their task – protection. Cleansing of the respiratory tract – poor fulfillment. Tiny particles in tobacco smoke keep the scavenger cells of the immune system busy, so that less capacity is available for defending against viruses and bacteria. Finally, more free radicals are produced in the body. They deplete especially vitamins A, C and E, on which the immune system depends. Drinking too much alcohol also impairs immune cells as a result. He also risks a deficiency of B vitamins, which are also important for immune cells.

Concentrated virus loads
A few cold viruses cost the body's defenses little effort, only in mass are they strong. However, once they have outwitted a few defenders, their chance of multiplying and spreading increases rapidly. Viruses make it particularly difficult for the body's defenses. Like a Trojan horse, they hide in body cells. And cold viruses constantly change their appearance, so that the defenses trained by previous attacks first run into the void. If the viruses manage to hatch into their host cell in the mucosa, they exploit the cell. Incessantly it must now help with the production of new viruses. Every sneeze sends millions of viruses into the air, every handshake passes them on.

The defense network
The defense network

Proper prevention

Your program against colds and coughs

On average, every German has a cold three times a year. But: If you support your immune system specifically, you will get less sick

Some people get it every time. Others seem to be immune to even the most violent sneezing attacks in the subway scrum or from the colleague at the desk across from them. Sure, there are people who naturally have better defenses than others, but everyone can do something to strengthen their immune system. Here is our all-round program for this:

The change from the warm house to the cold rain makes great demands on the body. In people who are not accustomed to such temperature differences, the blood vessels constrict to such an extent that the mucous membranes are no longer sufficiently supplied with blood. How to exercise your blood vessels:

Alternating showers. Take a warm shower for two minutes first thing in the morning, then turn to cold for ten to fifteen seconds. Repeat this three times. Stop with cold water.

Strong cast iron: Kneipp applications improve the adaptability of blood vessels to temperature fluctuations.

Sauna. One to two sauna visits per week prepare the organism for the changing temperature stimuli in fall and winter. If you're not a sauna expert, you can limit the cold shower after sweating to your legs and arms first, before getting under it completely. The cold plunge pool may be the biggest stimulant, but it's only recommended for cardiovascular-healthy people.

Walk in the dirty weather. There is no bad weather, there is only unsuitable clothing, say the meteorologists. Walk for half an hour a day even in foul weather – well wrapped up. The most important thing is to keep the feet warm and dry. How to increase your resistance.

Eat right
A balanced diet contains protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals – however, most Germans eat a diet too rich in fat. Instead, it is important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and dairy products. Vitamins A, C, E, B vitamins and trace elements zinc and selenium are essential for the immune system.

Vitamin C is involved in the formation of antibodies and helps the T-lymphocytes to destroy pathogens. T-lymphocytes are masters at detecting viruses, even those that are well hidden inside body cells. They belong to the specific immune system. Vitamin A is known to stimulate macrophages, the scavenger cells of the non-specific immune system, among other things. Vitamin E protects immune cells by scavenging free radicals, aggressive oxygen particles that also attack immune cells.

The vitamins and trace elements that are important for the immune system can be found in the following foods:

Vitamin A: carrots, potatoes, yellow and dark green vegetables;

B vitamins: yeast, meat, milk, eggs, legumes, nuts;

Vitamin C: citrus fruits, kiwi, peppers, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes;

Vitamin E: Whole grain products, vegetable oils, nuts, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, avocados;

Zinc: wheat germ, oatmeal, seafood, cheese;

Selenium: Muscle meat, seafood, whole grains and soy products.

Immunobiological and sports medicine research results prove that regular exercise stimulates the immune system. T-lymphocytes, macrophages and natural killer cells are activated. The most important thing is to exercise regularly, often enough, but within healthy limits. That is: daily about half an hour or two or three times a week for one hour each time. To keep the stress within healthy limits, you need to control your pulse rate. Those who overstrain themselves namely weaken the immune system.

A rough control of whether you are in the right performance range is given by the pulse rate: it should not exceed 180 minus the age of life. For example, if you are 45 years old, the upper limit is a pulse rate of 135.

Endurance sports that use the whole musculature as much as possible are best: Gymnastics, cross-country skiing, swimming, cycling, endurance running or brisk walking.

Constant stress and the feeling of constant overload weaken the immune system. It is therefore important to allow yourself phases of relaxation. This does not necessarily mean inactivity. While one person forgets all worries and stresses with a good book, the other can best switch off in a fun game with friends, the third while cross-country skiing through the snowy landscape. Realize that no one can always meet the demands of others and that everyone has the right to "switch off" once in a while. If you are often under so much pressure that you can no longer switch off the carousel of thoughts in your head, it is best to learn relaxation methods such as Jacobson muscle relaxation or autogenic training.

Natural aids from the pharmacy
A number of medicinal plants are able to increase especially the power of those immune cells that are the first to pounce on invaders.

The best known of these is the red coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). But also combination preparations with extracts of the tree of life (Thuja), wild indigo (Baptisia) or water hemp (Eupatorium perfoliatum) have proven their worth. These so-called immune modulators can prevent colds if used correctly and as a cure. Take them according to the manufacturer's instructions or the advice of your doctor or pharmacist. Change dosage. Do not take them on your own. You might otherwise overstrain your defenses.

Another group of medicinal plants protects the body when stress threatens to weaken the immune system. So-called adaptogens help the organism to cope better with stress and strengthen resilience. The most important representatives here are the ginseng and the taiga root.

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