Influenza and immune system


Influenza can be prevented through good behavioral and eating habits. Proper care of our immune system requires a healthy intestinal bacterial flora and an adequate dose of antioxidants.

Influenza is a quite contagious disease triggered by viruses that can infect the airways (nose, throat and lungs). The disease is transmitted by mucus and saliva, by staying close to or talking to those who cough and sneeze or simply by contact with hands contaminated by respiratory secretions.

Influenza throughout Europe occurs annually and affects particularly the population in pediatric age (0-4 months and 5-14 years) with an incidence that decreases with the advent of adulthood but returns to grow after the age of 65. The subjects most at risk of incurring in a severe form and developing complications are the elderlynewborns and pregnant women.

Influenza viruses have a high ability to modify their surface proteins, so as to circumvent the defense mechanisms of the immune system, giving us no way to “immunize” ourselves effectively either naturally, thanks to the creation of antibodies after a first infection, or via vaccination.

For this reason, the best thing that can be done is to prevent, starting with small actions of personal hygiene, such as washing hands frequently, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, throw away used handkerchiefs and isolate oneself at home when the first symptoms arise. It is also very important to ventilate the rooms where you stay for a long time, such as the bedroom after night or the office where we work for many hours.

The immune system is closely linked to the proper functioning of the antioxidant system. When there is an imbalance between production and elimination of chemical oxidizing species (oxidative stress), the body produces a high number of free radicals (highly dangerous particles) that damage the cells and tissues of our body, including those of our immune system.

The increase in free radicals may be due to advancing age but can also occur at an early age due to stress, smog, drugs, alcohol, cigarette smoke and food rich in additives. In addition, during the winter season, the cold and sudden changes in temperature create inflammations that contribute to increasing cellular damage, for example by inhibiting the movement of the lashes that are found on the tissues of the airways, which therefore can no longer push the mucus and prevent impurities and external microorganisms from reaching the bronchi and lungs; the mucus, consequently, accumulates and creates a fertile ground for the proliferation of viruses and bacteria. For this reason, preserving antioxidant defenses and increasing them thanks to molecules that sacrifice and oxidize (instead of our cells) helps to maintain an adequate function of the immune system.

Numerous minerals, vitamins and organic substances contribute to the protection of cells from oxidative stress. These include manganese, olive oil polyphenols, copper, selenium, vitamin B2, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc.

Among the most dangerous forms of influenza in the winter season is also gastroenteritis or intestinal flu, characterized by vomiting, diarrhea and in some cases even high fever.

In these instances, we must drink plenty of fluids, to restore the electrolyte balance and recover those lost through diarrheal discharges and increased sweating. To rehydrate, besides water, we can consume fruit juices, herbal teas, and broth, while we should avoid alcoholic beverages and caffeine. Furthermore, it is important to keep the intestinal mucosa and its flora healthy.

In conclusion, especially in this season, it is good to anticipate the annoying (and sometimes dangerous) influenza with a healthy prevention made of good behavioral and eating habits. Nature, as usual, offers valid remedies: it is up to us to take advantage of them adequately.