The complexity of the human immune system knows no bounds; it is a finely-tuned group of cells, organs, tissues, and substances manufactured by the body that act upon them.
The main function of the immune system is to protect us from foreign invaders, known as pathogens, such as viral or bacterial infections. How well the body resists illness, or how quickly a person recovers from illness, is a direct reflection of the state in which the immune system is functioning.
When there is an attack on the immune system, such as the presence of the common cold virus, a few things happen:
Our ‘first line of defence’ comes into play. This generally refers to physical barriers that try to stop a pathogen from entering the body. These defenders include the skin, the mucous and fine hairs in the nose, as well as vomiting (in the case of, for example, food poisoning).
In the instance that our first line of defence doesn’t manage to contain and remove the pathogen, the full force of the immune system comes into play. This includes an increase in the number of white blood cells, the key players in the immune system. The white blood cells serve to seek out the pathogen and then destroy and remove it from the body.
We might notice things like heat, redness, and swelling; signs of inflammation. These signs represent the body attempting to repair damage sustained during an attack on the immune system.
Why do things get worse when the weather gets cold?
The link between cold weather and the common cold is surprisingly not well-defined. While there is some evidence from animal studies that colder temperatures may dull the response time of the immune system to invading pathogens; it is also possible that the rise in colds and flu comes about from more people sharing the same warm air in enclosed spaces, forced indoors by the colder weather. In addition to both of these things, viruses such as the one that causes the common cold are better able to reproduce at temperatures below the body’s happy resting temperature of 37 degrees. If you consider the temperature of the air that sits in your nose during cold weather, this starts to make sense. It is likely an interplay of factors that causes an increase in the frequency of illness during the cooler months.
Understanding a little about the way the immune system works is the first step to protecting yourself against the dreaded winter lurgy. The next step is knowing how you can nourish the immune system to create a superior fortress which is better at both fending off and mounting a solid defence against any invaders that come your way. The next installment in this series will do exactly that. We’ll explore more about how we can build the immune system using food, lifestyle strategies; and, if required, some considered supplementation.
In the meantime, to get some extra support for your immune system to set you up for a streamlined and healthy winter, get in touch and book your first appointment today.