The human immune system is made up of a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that form a team to maintain overall health and protect the body against infection.
The human body is the ideal environment for pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites to thrive in abundance. The immune system acts as the body’s personal military, working to limit these microbes from entering the body and preventing them from flourishing.
While most people are aware of the basic functions of the immune system, there are many intricate facts about your body’s natural defense system that one may not know about, which invariably generate myths.
Interesting Facts And Myths About The Immune System
In order to keep your immune system in good shape, it’s important to first talk about some common misconceptions that we all have and get the facts straight.
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1. Vitamin C Wards Off Colds
No, it doesn’t.
Vitamin C has long had a reputation for helping prevent colds and people often gulp megadoses of orange juice and vitamin C tablets when they feel cold symptoms coming on. Clinical studies, however, have shown no effect for vitamin C in cold prevention in normal situations. You will get just as many colds as you did before, but they may be slightly less severe and last for a slightly shorter time period.1
It is true that vitamin C is important for the normal functioning of the immune system, and that it plays a vital role in healing wounds. But the best way to keep your immune system strong and functioning well is to eat healthy, including vitamin C-rich produce in your diet, all the time.
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2. Sugar Lowers Immunity
The popular myth goes that 1 teaspoon of sugar lowers your immune system for 6 hours. The answer is no.
Sugar actually helps fight infection and improves your body’s resistance and healing powers. It is already a well-known fact that packing an already infected wound with granulated sugar heals the infection, while honey and molasses seem to stimulate the immune function for wound healing as well.2 3 4
Furthermore, when sugar is consumed by obese people, there is an increase in the inflammation in their bodies, which is proof that it is not lowering immunity.
Artificial sweeteners and substitutes like sucralose, however, definitely suppress immunity.5 Sucralose is a fake sweetener, very commonly used in many food products, so be extra sure to check food labels to steer clear of eating anything with this ingredient.
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3. Getting A Flu Shot Will Give You Flu
No, it won’t.
The truth is, a flu shot doesn’t weaken the immune system, simply because it contains a dead or weakened virus, which is completely harmless for your body. This is not something, however, that your immunity knows. It instead, sees this as a threat, and immediately jumps to its defense to protect you. So in future, if you were to get attacked by the real flu virus, your body is well equipped to attack it faster, because it has already learned to build a strong immune defense against it. People mistake the side effects of the flu vaccine, which involve fever and body aches, as symptoms of flu.
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4. Exercise Doesn’t Make A Difference
This is not true.
A regular exercise routine and living an active, healthy lifestyle can help keep your immune system in tip-top condition. Exercise boosts your cardiovascular system which will help circulate white blood cells through your body and encourage your lymphatic system from functioning normally.6 7
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5. One Giant River Of Blood And Lymph
Now that we’ve got the facts out of the way, we can focus on some of the lesser known facts about our immune system.
The immune system is actually powered by five liters of blood and lymph. These fluids together unify to provide essential substances and nutrients like sugar, oxygen, and hormones to our cells and carries waste matter away from those cells.
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6. Fever Is A Good Sign
No one likes having fevers as they feel mighty unpleasant, but these are signs that the body is actively doing its job. A fever releases a whole lot of white blood cells, speeds up metabolism, and stops certain harmful organisms from multiplying.
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7. Inflammation Is Therapeutic
Think about the time you had a splinter lodged stubbornly into your finger. if you leave the splinter in there, you will find that specific area turning red and swelling up. This is a sign that the process of inflammation is at work, but it’s not bad news at all; it’s just your immune system’s way of being protective by signaling the damaged cells to release a chemical called histamine. The histamines act as bodyguards, helping to hustle any viruses or bacteria that may have entered through the splinter, out of your body. It will fight these pathogens so that you don’t get sick.
Inflammation is normally short-lived and may last anywhere from a few hours to several days or sometimes even many weeks.
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8. Sleep – It’s An Order
It happens to the best of us. Very often, when you have been working round the clock, running from pillar to post to get things done, you suddenly find yourself falling sick. That’s your immune system putting its foot down and threatening to go on strike.
It is essential for you to get more than five hours of sleep every night, otherwise, your immune system goes into depression just like you do. This leaves you vulnerable to colds, flu, and all sorts of harmful infections. 8
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9. A Little Sunshine Goes A Long Way
By exposing yourself to a little sun, you allow your body to naturally produce vitamin D, which helps keep depression, heart disease, and certain cancers at bay. It’s even good for people with autoimmune disorders.9
A fair-skinned person only needs about 10 minutes on a sunny day to get all the vitamin D they need, while darker skinned people may have to stay out a few minutes longer. Always remember, however, that while some sun is good, you definitely need to protect your skin whenever you plan to spend time outside. Too much sun can temporarily damage your immune system and could also eventually lead to skin cancer.
Skin care experts recommend all people invest in a good water resistant sunscreen with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection and a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Go for protective clothing like wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and shirts with long sleeves if being out in the sun is inevitable.
Also, find yourself shade wherever you can between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. because that’s when the sun’s rays are the strongest and most harmful.
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10. Stress Can Be Harmful
Your immune system is ready to take on anything that you can throw its way, but it can only handle so much.
Stress is detrimental to your immune system.10 During stress, a series of events work to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline from the adrenal gland to help your body cope with stress. Under normal circumstances, this is a good thing because stress hormones decrease inflammation in the body that is a result of your immune system’s response to stress.
If you are chronically stressed, however, stress hormones can affect the way the body functions over time. This increases the risk of health problems like digestion issues, heart diseases, anxiety, and depression.
Finding healthy ways to deal with your stress will bring down the likelihood of long-term stress and related health problems. Some good ways to reduce stress include:
- Talk therapy
- Art therapy
- Pet therapy
- Eating healthy
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11. Laughter Is An Immunity Booster
There’s an ancient saying that claims that laughter is the best medicine, and there’s a good amount of truth to that. Laughter releases happy chemicals like dopamine in the brain, which helps combat stress.11
This is why laughter clubs are so popular these days, but if that’s not your thing, you can turn to some popular funny tv shows, or books or even attend a funny play over the weekend!
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12. Germs Can Be A Blessing
You’ve probably grown up thinking of germs outside your body as vile, disgusting parasites. While some of this may be true, the surprising fact remains that you still need those germs to stay healthy.
Germs educate your immunity in a strange way. The immune system has the ability to learn and adapt itself to weather and environment changes, which explains why human beings have been around for so long. The first time your body comes in contact with a foreign substance, it attacks it and makes it point to remember it. If this same foreign substance was to come back, your body will already know what to do and will be ready to fight back faster. This is most apparent with measles; if you’ve got it once, it is extremely unlikely that you will suffer from it a second time.
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13. Your Immune System Can Attack Itself
Sometimes, your immune system takes off on a destructive rampage against itself to destroy its own healthy tissues. This is when autoimmune diseases occur – where the white blood cells in the body cannot tell the difference between pathogens and the body’s normal cells, thus setting off a response that destroys healthy tissues.
There are over 80 different types of autoimmune disorders, the most common ones being rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease.
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14. Being Too Clean Is Bad
While we’ve been taught that cleaning and disinfecting may be the best way to avoid infection, believe it or not, this is actually a case where too much of a good thing is bad.
While you go about making sure to keep your environment clean, you actually minimize the chances of too many foreign pathogens. In the process, you also end up stalling the development of the immune system. This is especially the case with young children; if they are kept away from harmful microbes completely, their bodies won’t be able to educate themselves to produce the right antibodies to fight them off.
Practicing good hygiene is a good thing but it’s also good to not overdo it. In trying to avoid foreign pathogens, you don’t want to unintentionally minimize the occurrence of the good bacteria in your environment.
|↑1||Ströhle, A., and Andreas Hahn. “Vitamin C and immune function.” Medizinische Monatsschrift fur Pharmazeuten 32, no. 2 (2009): 49-54.|
|↑2||Trouillet, JeanLouis, JeanYves Fagon, Yves Domart, Jean Chastre, Josiane Pierre, and Claude Gibert. “Use of granulated sugar in treatment of open mediastinitis after cardiac surgery.” The Lancet 326, no. 8448 (1985): 180-184.|
|↑3||Tonks, Amanda J., R. A. Cooper, K. P. Jones, S. Blair, J. Parton, and Alex Tonks. “Honey stimulates inflammatory cytokine production from monocytes.” Cytokine 21, no. 5 (2003): 242-247.|
|↑4||Rahiman, Farzana, and Edmund John Pool. “The effects of Saccharum officinarium (sugar cane) molasses on cytokine secretion by human blood cultures.” Journal of Immunoassay and Immunochemistry 31, no. 2 (2010): 148-159.|
|↑5||Rahiman, F., and E. J. Pool. “The in vitro effects of artificial and natural sweeteners on the immune system using whole blood culture assays.” Journal of Immunoassay and Immunochemistry 35, no. 1 (2014): 26-36.|
|↑6||Exercise, Healthy Diet Can Give Your Immune System a Boost. Cleaveland Clinic.|
|↑7||How to boost your immune system. Harvard Medical School.|
|↑8||Not Sleeping? You May Catch A Cold. Carnegie Mellon University|
|↑9||Aranow, Cynthia. “Vitamin D and the immune system.” Journal of investigative medicine 59, no. 6 (2011): 881-886.|
|↑10||Segerstrom, Suzanne C., and Gregory E. Miller. “Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry.” Psychological bulletin 130, no. 4 (2004): 601.|
|↑11||Strean, William B. “Laughter prescription.” Canadian Family Physician 55, no. 10 (2009): 965-967.|