9 Things You’re Doing That Weaken Immune System Health
When it comes to battling infections, diseases, and viruses – there is one factor more important than masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and social distancing: your immune system.
An individual with a strong, healthy immune system may find themselves exposed to countless viruses and bacteria and never get sick. Why? Because the highly specialized and effective human immune system is designed to fight and kill all harmful foreign antigens before they have a chance to wreak havoc.
When your immune system becomes impaired through improper diet, lifestyle, or any other factor – the risks of contracting an illness is greatly increased.
And while this all may sound obvious, it is surprisingly easy for an otherwise-healthy individual to suppress their immune system through basic dietary mistakes and their lifestyle.
In fact, I practically guarantee that everyone can identify with at least one point in the below list and improve it to improve the strength of their immune system.
1. Eating Too Much Sugar
Most people are aware that sugar, generally speaking, is “public health enemy #1.” It contributes to obesity, diabetes, coronary disease, fluctuations in energy, and countless other problems.
But there is also one other little-discussed effect of sugar: it puts parts of your immune system to sleep. According to a study done by Loma Linda University, your white blood cells are up to 40% less effective at killing germs and other foreign invaders after eating 100 grams of sugar.
The worst part? These effects last for up to five hours!
In other words, any consistent snacking, drinking, or eating of sugary items throughout the day can significantly impair your immune system and keep it that way.
2. Eating Refined Carbs
Refined carbohydrates like white flour, white bread, white rice, pastries, and other bready items have a very high glycemic index (GI) and no fiber or other nutrients to help slow down the digestion.
In simpler terms, refined carbs turn straight into glucose and have a similar effect on your body as eating straight sugar.
Not only does this throw your system out of balance and harm your digestive system, but it also contributes to a multitude of health problems and hinders your immune system’s ability to function properly.
Finally, refined carbs often cause inflammatory responses that shift your immune system’s focus away from viruses and germs, leaving your body more open to attack.
3. Not Eating Your Veggies
If your parents always told you to eat your veggies, they were right. Vegetables play an important role in maintaining optimal immune health by providing countless nutrients your immune system needs, including:
- Healthy dietary fiber for gut health and digestion
- Phytochemicals that support the immune system and help fight of pathogens
Furthermore, green vegetables have a direct impact on a key part of your immune system called intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs). Studies have shown that a lack of cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli) results in a drastically reduced number of IELs in your system.
4. Too Much Alcohol
Alcohol has been known for decades as a primary cause of immunodeficiencies. Excessive consumption of alcohol causes biological changes in your immune system and alters both the formation of and function of your white blood cells.
According to a recent study on the impact of alcohol abuse on the adaptive immune system,
“Chronic alcohol abuse in humans and animal models results in lymphopenia, increased T-cell differentiation and activation, and reduced migration … Chronic activation of the T-cell pool may alter the T cells’ ability to expand and respond to pathogenic challenges (potentially by inducing a state of unresponsiveness, or anergy, of the T cells), place the T cells under increased regulatory control, or lead to their elimination through increased sensitivity to AICD. These changes in turn compromise the organism’s ability to respond to pathogens and contribute to increased susceptibility to infections.”
Overindulgence in alcohol has been directly linked to an increased likelihood of contracting severe medical conditions, including:
- Autoimmune diseases
Those who smoke, vape, or enjoy chewing tobacco understand the sensation that nicotine produces in the body, and how easy it is to get addicted.
What is less known, however, is that nicotine has a direct impact on your immune system. It is innately an anti-inflammatory, which may be useful for those who suffer from chronic inflammation – but it hinders the immune system’s ability to utilize inflammation to fight off pathogens.
In addition to lung cancer and other diseases directly associated with smoking, those who consume nicotine on a regular basis have a higher incidence of other diseases due to the immunosuppressive properties of nicotine.
6. Sitting Too Much
According to a recent study from the National Institutes of Health, those who sit too much (no joke) have a higher risk of adverse levels of inflammation. Since inflammation is an immune system response, allowing inflammation to go out of control causes:
- Pain and discomfort
- Inhibited efficiency and effectiveness of your immune system
- Higher likelihood of contracting severe illnesses
For those who sit at work all day, daily exercises (even for 20-30 minutes per day) can hugely impact your immune system and help keep your body’s defense system running strong.
7. Negative emotion
We are all aware the emotion is linked directly to the endocrine system, right? When you’re scared, your heart rate increases. When you feel exhilarated, your energy levels come up, and you feel on top of the world.
Well, negative emotions such as anxiety, stress, depression, and others have been linked to hormonal changes that negatively impact your immune system’s ability to function.
A recent study from Pennsylvania State University indicated that negative moods and emotions are directly linked to excessive levels of inflammation and thereby contribute to an increased risk of disease.
In other words, removing stressful elements and taking time to keep yourself happy and joyful can make a big impact on your immune health!
8. Lack of Sleep
Another common cause of increased inflammation and reduced immune system response is simply too little sleep. While the science behind it is still undergoing research, evidence shows that depriving your body of sufficient rest causes increased levels of inflammation throughout your body and suppresses your immune system’s ability to function.
9. Vitamin D Deficiency
White blood cells have direct links and connections to Vitamin D, and studies have shown that a deficiency causes:
- An increased risk of autoimmune diseases (where your immune system attacks your own healthy cells)
- An increased risk of contracting infectious diseases
Several studies over the past decades have proven this. Some examples from a National Institutes of Health article include:
- One report studied almost 19,000 subjects between 1988 and 1994. Individuals with lower vitamin D levels (<30 ng/ml) were more likely to self-report a recent upper respiratory tract infection than those with sufficient levels, even after adjusting for variables including season, age, gender, body mass, and race
- Another cross-sectional study of 800 military recruits in Finland stratified men by serum vitamin D levels. Those recruits with lower vitamin D levels lost significantly more days from active duty secondary to upper respiratory infections than recruits with higher vitamin D levels (above 40nmol).
These and other studies have all linked a lack of Vitamin D to an increased risk of illness, including influenza and others.
Your body is able to synthesize Vitamin D with sufficient time in the sun, but those who stay most of the day indoors should consider supplementing Vitamin D in their diet.
Your immune system is a highly complex aspect of your health, and there are countless factors that can impact it. The above are some of the more common ways that people tend to harm their immune system without knowing it – and with knowledge comes the power to change it.
Here’s to a happier, healthier, and more energetic lifestyle!