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Learn How Immunity Works and How to Build Up Your Immune System

Not sure how your immune system actually works or how to keep it in tip-top shape? Here’s a list of books that’ll clue you in.
by Rosie Allabarton | May 7 2020

When COVID-19 turned all of our worlds upside down many of us began, perhaps for the first time, to take a more active interest in our immune systems. If we had never wondered it before, we were certainly wondering now: how do our immune systems work? How can we support them and keep them strong? What happens when they are weak or indeed when they fail?

In this book list put together by the team at Blinkist, our aim is to help you gain a deeper insight into the science behind immunity. We’ll get to grips with the history behind immunization and vaccines, the impact of stress and other mental health issues on our immune systems and, crucially, what you can do to keep yours in tip-top condition through diet, exercise, sleep, and relaxation.

Immunity Idol

A good starting point for increasing your understanding of the human immune system is the book Immunity by Dr. Wiliam E. Paul. Paul, a leading figure in immunology, enthusiastically guides us through the history of immunity, from its initial discovery through to our knowledge of how our immune systems work today, while outlining the incredible accomplishments science has made in the field over the last 50 years.

Get Defensive

Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times journalist, Matt Richtel, details the explosion of knowledge that has occurred over the past 70 years in the science of immunology . Using four patient case studies through which to discuss the human immune system—what he calls our ‘elegant defense’—Richtel combines an introduction to biology, medical historical text and the traditional first-person patient story to provide an intricate account of our immune system.

Fit Fuel

Super Immunity by Joel Fuhrman seeks to unveil the secrets to a stronger immune system and healthier body using superfoods. Fuhrman discusses some of the shortcomings found in modern medicine and how, with a diet loaded with rich-in-nutrients plant foods, we can naturally increase our defenses against viruses and disease.

Views on Vaccination

As a new mother herself at the time of writing, author Eula Biss seeks to examine the myths, conversations, and violently opposing opinions surrounding immunization, while simultaneously making choices regarding the vaccination of her own child. Selected as one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2014, On Immunity pushes no agenda from either side of the thorny vaccination debate, but instead strives to understand the fear many have of vaccinating their children.

Stomach It

A true proponent of the expression ‘you are what you eat’, William W. Li uses the latest scientific studies to support his view that food can be the most effective medicine we have to support our bodies’ natural defence systems against disease. If, thanks to the current health crisis, you’ve been thinking about how you can make dietary choices to protect and enhance your immune system, then this is the book for you. Li will take you on a journey through a range of different food groups outlining the benefits of each to fighting illness and disease and promoting good physical health.

Sleep It Off

Ever feel like you’re not getting enough sleep, no matter how many hours a night of shut-eye you’re getting? In The Secret Life of Sleep, author Kat Duff is able to shine a light on some of our less than healthy sleep habits. In this thoughtful and in-depth discussion of sleep, we are given alternative perspectives on the role of sleep from different cultures throughout history and across the world. We also learn how sleep or lack thereof is being used and even misused in modern society and, supported by the latest in sleep research, you might be surprised to learn what the consequences of that misuse might be.

I Cannot Stress Enough…

Stress is something we all have to deal with, in small or large amounts, throughout our lives. But have you ever considered the impact of stress on your physical health? In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, author and Stanford University biologist, Robert M. Sapolsky, offers the reader not just an insight into why and how we feel stressed, and the physical impact of sustained periods of stress, but, thankfully, he also provides practical tips for relieving it.

Just Because a Candle Has Two Ends…

Burnout, by co-authors Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, discusses the mental and physical toll that stressful situations take on us. What we discover is that one of the huge physical downsides of feeling stressed is that, among other things, it can cause our immune systems to significantly slow down. The reason for this is because our body is busy in ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode, focusing all its resources on pushing blood into the muscles and preparing it for getting away from danger as quickly as possible. Thanks to this now largely redundant stress response it’s important that we practice ways of reducing our stress so that our bodies are at their physical peak when we need them to be and our immune systems are able to tackle genuine danger like virus and disease.

Plant for the Future

If you’ve been thinking of using your time during lockdown to overhaul your diet, lose a few pounds and simultaneously give your immune system an almighty boost, then perhaps it’s time to consider the power of the plant. Backed up by the latest science, author and doctor Michael Gregor MD strongly advocates for a plant-based diet in How Not to Diet, with actionable tips on what to eat and how and when to eat it for maximum health and weight loss results.

Clean Up Your Act

Clean lays out the argument for strengthening and healing our bodies through detox. The authors cover the whole spectrum of the clean living debate: not only which foods and emissions we need to avoid if we are to reduce our chances of developing numerous cancers and diseases, but also why they are so harmful to us to begin with. We learn about the body’s natural ability to heal and cleanse itself and are given step-by-step guidance on how we can successfully enhance this process in a natural way.

Gut Reactions

All living creatures are home to millions of bacteria and other microbes that are essential to the functioning of our complex immune systems. Ed Yong, British science writer and author of I Contain Multitudes, breaks down this fascinating topic, shining a light on the importance of microorganisms to our ability to fight off disease. Yong advises readers on how to keep their immune systems properly tuned, recommending exposing ourselves to different microbes and trying to maintain a diverse diet that is rich in fibre that appeals to many different gut microbes.

Vegan Virtues

The China Study explores the undeniable link between diet and disease. Through a series of groundbreaking studies, authors T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell demonstrate how a diet rich in animal-based proteins like milk and meat can lead to a host of health problems, in particular cancer. Citing studies looking into the health and lifestyles of Chinese people—who eat a largely plant-based diet—the authors argue that if you want to stay healthy and cancer-free, you have to eat vegan.

Operation Eradication

Eradication takes a look at the history of mankind’s attempts to eradicate disease from the planet. Author Nancy Leys Stepan unpicks the politics behind such attempts, examines the successes and failures of disease eradication throughout history and probes the controversial view that the valuable resources that would need to be spent on the total eradication of disease from the planet would be better used elsewhere.

Going Viral

Have you ever wondered what the power of viruses might be if they could be harnessed for our own purposes? In A Planet of Viruses you’ll learn about the history of virus cures from the relatively sensible to the downright ridiculous, how viruses can actually save lives, and why it’s so important we keep up the continued investigation into how they mutate and transform, so we can be prepared for when they strike next.

We’ve enjoyed sharing our top picks about immunity, as well as exploring what our own roles are in the on-going fight against virus and disease. Whether you choose to overhaul your diet, reduce your stress levels through exercise or meditation, or simply decide to find out more about this fascinating, and very relevant subject, by checking out these titles on the Blinkist app, we hope you come away feeling more informed and armed with the tips and tricks you need to stay healthy.

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