Preventing the common cold: how to strengthen your body’s defenses


Cough, cold and hoarseness again? Then your immune system may be weakened. Anyone who wants to prevent a cold or flu should therefore strengthen their defenses with various remedies.

In the fight against invaders, the body performs at its best day and night. Normally this works without any problems. But sometimes viruses and the like find their way into the body and trigger infections.

If this happens frequently, the immune defense may be weakened. But what exactly is behind the immune system? “This system is highly complex,” says Prof. Ulrich Fölsch, a specialist in internal medicine and gastroenterology. That’s because the immune system is everywhere in the body: it is an interplay of cells, tissues and messenger substances of all kinds.

How the immune system works

It starts with the skin. The body’s envelope is a protective barrier and generally repels attacks from germs. “The skin has a slightly acidic pH, which prevents bacteria and co. from entering the body,” says Fölsch, who is also secretary general of the German Society for Internal Medicine (DGIM). The mucous membranes, the nasal hairs or the cilia on the bronchial tubes also generally ensure that germs from outside have no chance.

If germs enter the body with food, it is saliva that tries to kill them – and if this fails, gastric acid takes over. In addition, there are the natural defenses. “These are cells in the body that simply eat up everything that appears foreign to the body,” the physician explains. These so-called phagocytes include macrophages and monocytes.

If this natural defense does not succeed in putting pathogens out of action, the body activates the specific defense: these are the so-called B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes, which belong to the group of white blood cells. They develop antibodies that act specifically against pathogens known to the body. “This is because the immune system has a kind of memory, so to speak, and remembers having dealt with these germs before,” Fölsch explains.

Reasons for immune deficiency

If the body is confronted with a renewed attack by the same pathogen, the specific immune system recognizes this and can quickly render the pathogen harmless. “Anyone who has had scarlet fever once will never get the disease again,” says Fölsch. The situation is different with influenza: because the pathogens constantly change their composition, people often contract influenza more than once in their lifetime.

Infections of any kind occur when the immune system is weakened. This can have various causes – from lack of sleep, hypothermia, constant stress, chronic diseases such as diabetes to an acquired immune deficiency – AIDS, for example.

Medications can also weaken the immune system: “You should be particularly careful when taking antibiotics and only take them after consulting your doctor,” explains Fölsch. This is because antibiotics not only destroy foreign invaders, but also beneficial bacteria that the intestines in particular need for smooth digestion.

Tips for strengthening the immune system

Anyone who suffers from infections more frequently and in quick succession should have their immune defenses sounded out. “Simple remedies often help,” says Ursula Sellerberg of the German Pharmacists’ Association in Berlin. This includes, for example, a healthy and balanced diet. “Dietary supplements are not necessary for the immune defense if you eat sensibly.”

Also good to strengthen the immune system: sports or simply exercise in the fresh air. “It’s also important to wash your hands several times a day to flush away pathogens that cause illness,” Sellerberg says. For stress sufferers, it can also be helpful to learn relaxation methods. “This is not only good for the immune system, but also for the nervous system,” emphasizes Fölsch.

“The sleep factor should not be underestimated either,” says alternative practitioner René Gräber from Preetz in Schleswig-Holstein. According to his observation, many people do not sleep sufficiently. “Lack of sleep can definitely have a negative effect on the immune defense.” And another tip from Gräber: walk barefoot. “This not only strengthens the natural immune defense, but is also beneficial for the musculoskeletal system.”



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