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How the human body fights infection and how you can boost your immunity.

Posted on24 Feb 2020
Researchers are still unclear exactly how this new coronavirus interacts with the human body's immune system, but from reports that have come up, around 80 per cent of the infected cases recover but the rest grapple with severe or critical symptoms.

HOW DOES THE IMMUNE SYSTEM WORK? Our immune system kicks in when it encounters a threat, such as a virus, bacteria or parasite. Yet, it is common to see differing immune responses to the same microbe — even among family members. The immune system is made up of a complex network of organs such as the spleen and lymph nodes, immune cells as well as molecules that can be activated to defend against threats to the body.

Associate Professor Liu Haiyan said that the body’s first line of defence in response to an infection is the barrier function, which includes the skin and mucosal surfaces — the inner lining of some organs and body cavities such as the nose, mouth, lungs, stomach and intestines.

Assoc Prof Liu is from the department of microbiology and immunology at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in the National University of Singapore. The immune system then initiates an early response (called innate immune response), during which immune cells can be activated within a short period of time.

However, this early response is usually not enough to deal with an infection, Assoc Prof Liu said. “We need the activation of our adaptive immune response, which takes about three days (after the early response is initiated). “Lymphocytes (one of the types of white blood cells) are the main cell types responding at this stage. Some of them can kill viral infected cells and some can make antibodies that help clear the infection.”

- "Probiotic supplementation in our diet can be substantial and beneficial in improving the immune response in the gut. NK cell activity is critical for mediating an appropriate immune response against pathogens, especially for Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains found in Probiotic supplements."

WHAT IS A HEALTHY IMMUNE SYSTEM AND HOW DOES IT DEVELOP?
Assoc Prof Liu said that there are no known medications or vaccine for new pathogens such as Covid-19 for now, so people would heavily depend on their immune systems to fight the infection. She defines a healthy immune system as one that is “balanced and targeted” and can generate a specific response to infections.

And it does this without inducing much damage to the body’s own tissues and organs. “People who can generate a more efficient anti-viral immune response have milder symptoms when they encounter an infection,” she said.

She explained that the immune system starts to function from birth but also goes through different stages in a lifetime. Expanding on this, Dr Liew said: “At birth, babies are partly protected by antibodies from their mothers, transferred via the placenta in the last few weeks of pregnancy.

Premature babies have lower immunity levels." After birth, the immune system “gets educated” by encounters with various microbes, including infections, probiotics and vaccinations, he said. - This is why supplementing Lactokids at a young age is highly beneficial to a child's growth development. 

The immune system is possibly most primed — or ready for “battle” — in childhood and then matures in adulthood, he added.
Dr Liew explained: “While a child’s immune system is young, the ‘soldiers’ are ready. In contrast, an adult’s immune system may have experience with previous infection encounters, but because the last illness may have been a while back, the immune system may not be as battle-ready.”

An adult’s immune system may also be senescent (ageing) or dysregulated (not functioning normally), causing an exaggerated immune response.

WHAT MAKES THE BODY’S DEFENCES LESS EFFICIENT?

The immune system slowly declines with age and becomes less efficient in dealing with new infections.

1. Cut out junk food

2. Ensure a well-balanced diet with nutritious foods

3. Take daily supplements such as probiotics, vitamin C 

4. Get regular doses of sunshine or Vitamin D

5. Exercise regularly, but do not overdo it

6. Manage stress

7. Take protective measures

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