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Our disrupted human immune system

Hardly a day goes by when we do not read about how some juice concoction or pill or yoga pose will “boost” our immune system. Putting all such claims aside, Matt Richtel, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System” believes that such proclamations answer the wrong question. The key, he says, is not boosting the immune system but balancing it. As pointed out by Harvard Health, the immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony.

Immunologists are often faced with what Richtel describes as a bit of a “Goldilocks” dilemma. Our immune system is our first line of defense against disease. One person might be found to have a weak immune system. One might have too powerful an immune system. Another lucky individual will have one that is just right. If a system becomes too powerful, it can become a threat, attacking our organs and other bodily systems.

Richtel contends that while modern life has freed us from many of the diseases that plagued humans in the past, it also puts unprecedented stress on the very system that keeps us healthy. The result, among other things, has been an upsurge in autoimmune diseases.

He is not the first to suggest excessive hygiene is part of the problem. Today, rather than trusting our bodies’ natural defenses, many folks turn to antibacterial soaps, hand sanitizers and quickly prescribed antibiotics for protection. Some experts contend that this is resulting in the development of dangerous drug-resistant microbes that can threaten health.

For more than a century, scientists have submitted that a link exists between increased hygiene and allergic conditions. Our immune systems are becoming improperly “trained.” As a result, it is creating a reduction in immune response to infections.

As I suggested last week, nature is medicine. Our bodies need to know what immune challenges exist in the natural environment. Our immune system can become disrupted if it does not have regular interactions and contact with the natural world. Today, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93 percent of their life indoors. That means in their entire life, only about 7 percent of their time is spent out-of-doors.

According to Harvard Health, your first line of defense in protecting your immune system should be to choose a healthy lifestyle and follow general guidelines for good health. It is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Richtel also agrees that the best way to keep the immune system in balance is a good diet and sleep, while living a healthy lifestyle.

There admittedly remains much that medical science does not know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of human immune response. While answers have proved elusive, researchers are currently focusing on the effects of diet, exercise and age as well as psychological stress and other factors on immune response. In the meantime, they suggest that general healthy-living strategies are a good and accessible way to give your immune system the upper hand.

Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. Currently, researchers are trying to determine whether it helps to keep your immune system healthy. According to a recent study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, it was found that, just like a healthy diet, exercise contributes to general good health and a healthy immune system. In addition, it promotes good circulation and allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.

The report represents the first study to investigate the relationship between muscular strength and risk of developing diabetes later in life. According to the study’s findings, moderate regular exercise — and moderate amounts of muscle strength, but not beyond that — is the key.

For the study, from 1981 to 2006, the adults underwent muscular strength tests and treadmill exercise tests as part of medical examinations at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. After dividing the adults’ muscular strength tests into three levels based on intensity, the researchers found that those in the middle level had a 32 percent reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes compared with those in the lower third. Researchers found no significant association between incidents of Type 2 diabetes and the upper level of muscular strength.

As reported by CNN, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes. That represents nearly 1 out of 10 people. Globally, the prevalence of diabetes continues to rise. Muscular strength has been tied to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all cases. According to the study, you don’t need to overdo the strength training to reap the benefits.

While the sample size was admittedly small, the results show promise. The study’s findings point out how both muscle strength and cardiorespiratory fitness are proving important in lowering diabetes risk.

Meanwhile, according to a report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, getting outside and moving for as little as five minutes at a time is shown to improve both a person’s mood and self-esteem.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness.

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