Inflammation and the Immune System – The Hamburg Reporter

By Jennifer May, MD

Many of my patients will say, “Doctor, I’m so inflamed.” The use of the word inflammation is common when we search the market for anti-inflammatory diets or inflammation self-help books. The inflammatory response created by the immune system contributes to healing, but when left unchecked can contribute to chronic illnesses, allergies, and non-specific symptoms such as painful joints, fatigue, and malaise . The immune system has two main parts. The first of these is the innate immune system which is the body’s first line of defense. The innate immune system acts as a barrier that prevents harmful materials from entering the body and responds quickly when needed. The second part is the adaptive immune system. This system is more specialized and takes over when the innate immune system fails. The adaptive immune system responds more slowly than the innate immune system but with more precision.

So how can we make our immune system healthier? Here are four areas that can be focused on to improve immune health: quality rest, eating well, exercising, and managing stress.

Lack of sleep weakens the immune system and facilitates illness. This means your colds last longer and you can catch them more often. Researchers recommend adults get 7-8 hours of good sleep each night, while teens need about 10 hours.

Doctors often suggest anti-inflammatory diets for people with chronic diseases, inflammatory conditions, and food sensitivities. No diet is right for everyone, but diets that avoid inflammatory foods have been shown to be beneficial. Dietary recommendations include avoiding processed foods, i.e. things that come in a box or bag. Focus on whole foods, like apples, brown rice, nuts, seeds, and legumes. A good diet for inflammation and cholesterol is the Mediterranean diet. It increases omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce inflammation and hopefully lower cholesterol levels.

Exercise also helps our immune system. Doing at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise a day stimulates the antibody response, which helps prevent disease. Moreover, exercise will also improve your mood. Stress management is difficult for everyone. However, unplugging and practicing mindfulness are good coping strategies that can help you decompress after a long day.

We are often overwhelmed by stressful and busy lives. Inflammation and immune system problems cannot be solved with a pill or a little advice. It takes a personal commitment to assess one’s own habits. Then think about possible changes for you. Working on any or all of the above areas is worth trying. The power to improve your health and immunity lies within you.

Jennifer May, MD, practices rheumatology in Rapid City, South Dakota. She is a Prairie Doc® columnist and guest host this week on the Prairie Doc® TV show again. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www. prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook with On Call with the Prairie Doc®, a medical Q&A broadcast on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. Central Time.