A helping hand for the immune system

Fighting off the common cold, healing cuts, defending against insect bites—these are all in a day’s work for the human immune system. Even though these seem minor problems they can linger longer than necessary or even turn nasty if the immune system is weakened.

An integral part of the body’s immune response is inflammation. It can be a good thing when the body is trying to heal or protect itself but if it hangs around too long it can become a problem, leading to chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease.

In most cases, the immune system does a great job of keeping teenagers healthy and preventing infections. Unfortunately, teens are not immune to bad habits, such as skipping meals and staying up late, that can contribute to immune system dysfunction.

Another major factor in problems with the immune system is stress. The teenage years are marked by rapid changes—physical, cognitive, and emotional. The ways in which teens cope with stressors such as peer pressure, family tensions, and the demands of school, can have significant effects on their physical and emotional health. Long-term stressors can weaken the immune system.

Disruption of the immune system can also lead to problems with cognition. On top of all their other stressors, teens do not need trouble with learning and memory.

How to boost the immune system

The idea of boosting the immune system is attractive and has proved elusive—because it is a system and not a single organ it requires balance and harmony to function well.

Of course, the first step is to adapt healthy habits: eat healthily, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, avoid stress, and get adequate sleep. Good luck getting teens to listen to that advice!

The next step is to think about a supplement. There is a wealth of them on the pharmacy shelves and it can be hard to know which one is really going to help. Ideally, the ingredients should offer:

  • Potent anti-oxidants.
  • Anti-inflammatories.
  • Immune building effects.

One ingredient found in some supplements that has been extensively researched is the antioxidant, French maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenolâ). It has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to be effective in improving a number of conditions associated with inflammation such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, and hypertension. It also offers cognitive benefits, having been shown to improve sustained attention, memory, executive functions, and mood in students.

Remember, If teens are taking other medications, they should always consult their GPs before starting any supplement.

Useful URL

The Teen Years Explained: www.jhsph.edu