The human immune system is an amazing thing. There are thousands of microorganisms — millions, maybe — that are lurking out there, eager to make you sick. You breathe them in. They’re in every bite of food, and all over your hands when you rub your nose. We live in constant bombardment.
And they’re sneaky, too — with changing DNA and proteins to fool us. We’ve got soap and water and some pretty good antibiotics to fight them off, but, really, the vast majority of the work to keep us healthy is done by our own immune systems.
Wouldn’t it be nice to give your immune system a boost, to help it fight off infections? We know moderate (but not heavy) exercise can help, as can a good night’s sleep. What about those “immune booster” vitamin packs they sell? Hint: there’s a reason they say right on the package that they don’t prevent or treat any disease. Save your money.
Another idea: you can just get sick, and at least the next time around your immune system can recognize the germ and fight it off more effectively. Of course, you have to get sick first to enjoy those benefits. And some of those sicknesses can be pretty serious. Or might kill you. Still, no pain no gain, right?
Wrong. There’s a great way to get a real immune boost — a way to help your own immune system, or that of your children, fight off diseases without having to get sick first. They’re vaccinations. They give your immune system a glimpse, a quick, safe view, of an infection in a way that won’t make you sick, but will still teach your immune system to recognize the infection if you ever have to fight it off. It’s the best way to prepare your immune army for battle against the infectious enemy, in a way that’s almost risk-free.
Get your sleep and exercise, and eat tasty, home-made foods. Grow a vegetable garden. Hug your kids. Sing like no one is listening, and dance like no one is watching. And vaccinate, too. These are all great ways to keep your children happy, healthy, and safe.
Roy Benaroch is a pediatrician who blogs at the Pediatric Insider. He is also the author of A Guide to Getting the Best Health Care for Your Child and the creator of The Great Courses’ Medical School for Everyone: Grand Rounds Cases.
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