Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Building Immunity..........Introduction

I wrote a 4 part series on this subject for Life in Adyar.......

     Imagine having your own personal army, responsible for your safety and survival, ready at a moment’s notice....did you think of a team of bodyguards? Well, this system is literally guarding your body. It is called your Immune System and your health and ability to fight infections, toxins, poisons and even cancerous cells depends on it.

     There is a lot of new research taking place on the subject of immunity especially on what enhances and suppresses it. This is a hot topic in the light of new, virulent types of infections like swine flu and the hanta virus. Ordinary, existing bacteria and viruses are mutating into new strains which are resistant to our traditional drugs. This phenomenon is mainly due to the widespread and indiscriminate use of antibiotics to treat even virus infections like cold and influenza (against which they are completely ineffective). In this scenario, the best option that you have is to keep your immune system working optimally.

     While your skin, saliva, mucosal lining of nasal passages and digestive system, stomach acid, tears, etc. are the first barriers to any foreign body, this Natural Immunity also consists of antibodies and protective cells that are already present in your body from the time of birth. Inflammation is also an example of this – a slight swelling when a mosquito bites or at a cut in skin actually protects you from bacteria at the site.

     A secondary line of defence called Acquired Immunity consists of more complex cells and systems to fight foreign bodies or ‘antigens’ as they are called. This type of immunity ‘learns’ from previous attacks and infections and enables the body to protect itself from future assaults and is associated with our Lymphatic System. A well known example is having chicken pox as a child and then being protected from developing it again throughout life. Vaccines work on the same principle but not at 100% effectiveness.

    During the rains, the risk of developing infections is at the highest because the water we drink might be contaminated. During this season, avoid eating out frequently and especially from roadside vendors to prevent infections like typhoid, gastroenteritis and cholera. Urinary tract and fungal infections of the feet are common. Keep your feet dry and change socks frequently. For urinary tract infections barley water is the way to go (beer doesn’t help). Stagnant water leads to mosquitoes breeding – dengue and malaria incidence is higher during this season. Ask civic authorities to clear any standing water in your area.

     It is critical to maintain a dry, hygienic environment at home to prevent being affected. Focus on kitchen hygiene and cleaning of fresh food stuffs before preparation. Wash hands with ordinary soap regularly. Don’t play too much in the rain – jumping in puddles is definitely not recommended. Stay out of the pool as far as possible since it is water-borne infections that are predominant.

    The monsoon doesn't have to be a time of caution, keep the above practices in place and if you get wet occasionally, don’t worry too much about coming down with an infection. Watch out for the next in the series – The Small Things Matter.   

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', September 22, 2012.

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