By Ann Sullivan
The human body’s immune system is its natural form of its defense. This involves tissues, cells and organs that all work in concert to fight off harmful microbes that can lead to illness and disease. When these systems are compromised, or strained, they can go off balance and wreak havoc on the natural defense system that nature intended. This imbalance can lead to catching colds and flu more easily, as well as long-term illness and health issues. There are things you should be aware of so you can, hopefully, avoid the ill effects of the damage they can cause to your immune system.
1) Chronic Stress
A constant or prolonged period of stress can weaken and deplete the immune system. Stress can cause issues like anxiety, depression and insomnia and psoriasis. Long term stress causes the body to over produce a hormone called cortisol. This impairs the function of infection fighting T-cells. In people with long term stress, also known as PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, the body’s “fight or flight” mechanism is in a constant state of being turned on, so the damaging effects of stress are continually present. Stress also causes a state of constant inflammation in the body, which can lead to autoimmune diseases. This condition occurs when the body perceives itself as an actual threat and attacks itself. Chronic stress can also lead to depletion in necessary proteins and vitamins. Overall, being continually stressed can cause you to get sick more easily, and heal more slowly.
2) Lack of Sleep
Not getting enough or the proper sleep can affect the immune system. Studies conducted by the Mayo Clinic show people who get poor quality sleep, or not enough hours of restful shut eye, are more likely to catch a cold or virus. Lack of sleep can also be a factor in how long you take to recover from a cold or virus. During sleep, your body releases proteins called cytokines. Some of these serve to promote sleep. These proteins need to increase when you have an illness or infection. When lack of sleep decreases them, infection fighting antibodies and cells are diminished as well. The average adult requires 7-8 hours per night of restful sleep to maintain a healthy and productive immune system. Long-term lack of sleep, and therefore immune deficiencies, can often lead to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart trouble and inflammatory diseases such as Lupus, Fibromyalgia, and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
3) Overusing Anti-biotics
Taking antibiotics at the first sign of a cold can cause more harm than good. In the long run your body will become resistant to them and they will no longer be effective if you need them for something more serious. Antibiotics, by design, are not intended as a preventative course of medication. When you need them for a bacterial infection, be sure to use the entire prescription. Keep in mind, also, that many meat and poultry producers load up their livestock with antibiotics. This can adversely affect the human immune system, and can cause the promotion of drug-resistant bacteria in the body. The best way to avoid this, is to check the labeling on the meat products you buy. Always look for antibiotic free, hormone free, organic, grass fed, free range, etc. In other words, as natural as you can get.
Sugar, in general, is bad for the immune system. Sugary, over-processed, preservative based sweets are especially the worst things to eat if you want to maintain a healthy immune system. Eating too much processed sugar suppresses immune cells that attack bacteria in the body. Web MD suggests eating more fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C, zinc, beta carotene and vitamin E. The more colorful and varied the fruit and vegetable choices, the better. Glucose is sugar in the bloodstream in its simplest form. When we consume high amounts of sugar, the white blood cells in the body can mistake it for vitamin C and will pull the sugar into the bloodstream instead. It can take 4-6 hours for the body to correctly identify and begin to absorb the vitamin C it mistook the sugar for. You should especially avoid sugar when you have a cold or flu.
5) Negative Emotions
As the saying goes “laughter is the best medicine.” When a person laughs, the body releases endorphins that help to boost the immune system. Holding yourself in a state of negativity does the opposite. When negativity wears you down to the point of feeling exhausted, it depletes your immune system. Even watching movies or programs that produce fear and anxiety can cause immune cells to disappear from the blood. And that doesn’t end when the show does. On the other hand, watching something uplifting or funny can aid in producing immune boosting cells. Worry is another leading cause of negativity depleting the immune system. Optimism, according to leading studies in the scientific and medical fields, is equally as important as diet, exercise, proper sleep and nutrition. Pessimism also leads to being more susceptible to stressful and negative situations. Reacting with a positive outlook is the healthiest way to maintain your immunity.
Losing a love one is a painful experience that can have a negative impact on the mind and body overall. Some people report being extremely tired, or experiencing fear at the loss of a person close to them. This, combined with a sense of being alone and an inability to think clearly, all contribute to depleting the natural immune defenses. The extreme pain and stress resulting in the loss of a loved one can wreak havoc on the body. The resulting hit to the immune system can cause many health issues such as hypertension, high cholesterol, blood sugar imbalances, hormonal imbalances and auto immune diseases. Even crying and the feelings of guilt can drain your body’s immune defenses. The Mayo Clinic suggests that a person grieving not spend too much time alone. They further recommend to reminisce about the happy memories and times had with the lost loved one.
7) Lack of Exercise
Not unlike laughter, exercise releases positive endorphins in the body. Physical activity may also help flush bacteria out of the airways and lungs. This can leave you less susceptible to catching a cold, flu or other airborne virus. White blood cells stay stuck in the lining of the blood vessels unless they are swept into action. Exercise causes the white blood cells to start circulating in the blood stream. These cells boost the immune system when they are active and create antibodies that ward off bacteria and illness in general. Moderate exercise is the key. A brisk walk or 30 minutes of dance or aerobics is what’s recommended to boost the immune system. Over exercising can do the opposite. Overexerting the body can weaken the immune system and make you more susceptible to a cold or other illness. It’s always recommended to consult your doctor before starting any type of exercise routine.
8) Holding Things in
Suppressing feelings is not recommended for a healthy immune system. Bottled up emotions cause stress to be directed inward. This can lead to issues like high blood pressure, irregular heart rate and a slowdown in white blood cell circulation. A healthy discussion or expression of an issue is the best way to release the bottled-up tension that does harm to your body. Holding things too long without releasing them in a healthy way only increases the inner tension and harm to your immunity. If things have gone too long and you’re too agitated to have a calm discussion of an issue, try writing it down. This is a way to release what you’re feeling without having an explosion of bottled up emotions occur. Once you get it out of your system on paper, you may be calm enough to have a productive discussion about the issues you were holding in, without doing further harm to your immune system.
9) Poor Hydration
There are many benefits to drinking a plentiful amount of water each day. This is especially true for maintaining a healthy immune system. Lack of hydration can cause many issues. Mainly it will decrease the oxygen in the bloodstream. Water oxygenates the blood and allows it to flush harmful toxins out. Not drinking enough water slows that process down, and allows toxins to be stored in the bloodstream. The longer these toxins stay in the blood, the more harm they can do. Drinking enough water also aids in digestion and ensures that the body’s cells absorb the proper nutrients from food. Lack of hydration also slows down the body’s ability to generate immune cells and their ability to circulate in the blood stream. Drinking enough water daily allows your body to remain moist. This helps your eyes and mouth to be able to fight off dirt and germs with a moisture barrier.
10) Too Much Time Alone
Research has shown that loneliness can chart a course to bad health. This can, however, be easily remedied with an increase in social contact. A social psychologist, John Cacioppo, from the University of Chicago, found in his research that social isolation can determine how immune genes are expressed in the body. He found that several key gene sets needed for a healthy immune system were under developed in a lonely person’s body. This can produce poor antiviral responses and slow antibody production. In other words, a lonely person has less defenses to germs and bacterial infections due to the lack of the proper immune boosting cell production. Social isolation can also cause hardening of the arteries which leads to high blood pressure. In addition, it causes more inflammation in the body which can produce various cancers and other life-threatening illnesses.
11) Not Enough Good Fat
Healthy fats are needed for proper cell production. Good fats, such as those found in fish, nuts, kale and avocado’s, help to regulate inflammation in the body and promote a healthy immune system. Processed foods and meats contain considerable amounts of unhealthy fats and should be avoided as much as possible. Good fats, also known as essential fatty acids, are needed for fueling the body and building strong cell membranes. Healthy fats are also important in building and regulating the immune system. Saturated fats such as those found in butter and coconut oils, are also needed to support immune health. Loss of fatty acids in white blood cells impede their ability to fight and destroy viruses, fungus and bacteria. Fats also help the body to absorb and use certain necessary fat-soluble vitamins. This means that healthy fat helps deliver Vitamins A, D, E and K into the body via the intestines.