Your body is an incredible machine, fascinating in its complexity and resourcefulness. Have you noticed its astounding ability to fix itself whenever some things “break down”? The liver possesses the remarkable capacity to regenerate, the lungs have their own self-cleaning system, the epithelial tissues are capable of self-renewing, being able to rapidly replace damaged and dead cells.
It is often said that strength lies within yourself. This is true not only from a mental or emotional perspective, but it also applies to your physical body. And do you know who is responsible for that immense strength you possess? Mostly the immune system, which is like an “army”. Your inner soldiers have several missions to accomplish, such as restoring the body from any trauma (physical or psychological), protecting you against pathogens that cause diseases, and eliminating toxins. Yes, your body works its magic to keep you safe and sound.
That’s why you also need to put some constant effort into improving your health. You owe this to yourself. And it’s not hard at all! You can easily enhance your immune system’s efficacy with a little adjustment to your dietary choices and lifestyle. However, your daily routine might affect your immunity without even knowing. Let’s see what weakens your immune system and how you can improve and maintain it strong and healthy.
What is immunity?
The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs, which can prevent and eliminate pathogens from the body, providing permanent protection. From a biological point of view, immunity is the state of balance of multicellular organisms that respond adequately in case of infection or disease.
The main quality of the immune system is to recognize foreign bodies, but also those with modified structures in the body, and to eliminate them through specific mechanisms. The immune system's reactivity is continuous, and the identification of a pathogen immediately downgrades a complex reaction of its defense and elimination.
A special characteristic of the immune system is the ability to memorize patterns of all the pathogens it has previously encountered and eliminated. B and T lymphocytes, also known as memory cells, are responsible for this type of memory.
Immune memory makes it possible to recognize pathogens before they multiply in the body and cause a state of illness. On the other hand, the immune system has a certain tolerance, so allergic manifestations or autoimmune aggression can be avoided.
Types of immunity
Innate immunity is what the mother transmits to the fetus. This type of immunity includes the natural barriers that form the first line of defense against pathogens:
- mechanical (skin and mucous membranes)
- chemical barriers (secretions of the sweat and sebaceous glands, mucus, own secretions, such as saliva and gastric juice)
- cellular barriers (cells with phagocytic properties)
Passive immunity is represented by antibodies transmitted from mother to child through breast milk or placenta, which give the newborn a temporary immunity. This passive immunity protects the child from several infections (usually those made by the mother or for which he was vaccinated) in the first years of life.
Acquired immunity is developed over your lifetime. It can come from a vaccine, exposure to an infection or disease, or another person’s antibodies (infection-fighting immune cells).
What can weaken your immune system?
Certain factors can depress the immune system, making the body vulnerable to disease.
A sedentary lifestyle - or lack of exercise - negatively affects the immune system. According to a January 2012 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, there is a direct link between a sedentary lifestyle and a low immune system's ability to respond to attack by pathogens. Moreover, other studies have shown that people who exercise regularly take twice as little medical leave. The movement improves the activity of NK cells (natural killers) and the growth of T cells, thus helping the proper functioning of the immune system.
During times of stress, the brain produces more cortisol to cope with the situation. Cortisol is a hormone that blocks the activity of T cells, important cells for your immune system, thus weakening the body's ability to defend itself against pathogens and heal. Eliminating stress from your life and relaxing helps to regulate the activity of the immune system healthily.
Lack of sleep
Sleep deprivation can also cause chronic inflammation. While the immune system produces cytokines that are usually beneficial, unfortunately, due to sleeplessness, the system is weakened and responds to this condition by releasing cytokines that promote inflammation. Quality sleep strengthens the immune system by producing T cells, which produce antibodies that bind directly to infected cells in the body and destroy them, providing a cellular immune response.
Smoking and alcohol
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption directly affect the respiratory and digestive systems (especially the liver), which support the immune system. Moreover, alcohol inhibits T cell production and weakens the barrier function of the lower respiratory tract mucosa.
Consuming unhealthy carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates that do not contain fibers produce blood sugar imbalance. White bread, cakes, and pastries of all kinds have high-calorie content but lack quality nutrients. Although they provide you with a quick energy boost, they prevent your body from meeting its daily nutrient requirements, which in the longer term might negatively affect the immune functions.
Complex carbs, on the other hand, are slower to digest, therefore they balance blood sugar levels and moderate the undesired activation of immune cells. The soluble fiber contained by complex carbs also helps remove toxins from the gut, while nourishing the good bacteria.
Not consuming enough proteins
One of the most vital roles of proteins is to support immune function and they are crucial for building and repairing tissues. Proteins help at forming antibodies to protect your body against foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. Inadequate protein intake may lead to weaker immune function, thus slower recovery from illness.
Disregarding food-preparation instructions
Raw meat and eggs can contain harmful bacteria that can spread quickly to anything it touches, including tables, plates, chopping boards, knives.
Make sure to separate raw food from ready-to-eat foods, such as vegetables, fruits, bread, etc. These will not be cooked before you eat them, so the bacteria that gets on to them will not be killed and might lead to food poisoning, including E.coli or Salmonella.
Excessive antibiotics administration
Taking antibiotics too often or for the wrong reason can change bacteria so much that antibiotics don't work against them. This is called bacterial resistance or antibiotic resistance and can lead to a weak immune response if certain diseases or medical conditions occur.
Low vitamin C
Vitamin C is involved in many parts of the immune system. It stimulates the production of white blood cells, which help protect the body against infections. In order to notice the benefits of vitamin C, you'll need to consume it every day. If you’re looking for a natural way to strengthen your body, try out the Vitamin C. It’s 100% vegan, made from fruit extract, with no artificial colors or unnecessary ingredients.
Does sugar weaken the immune system?
According to this nutrition study it takes 75 grams of sugar to weaken your immune system. Once the white blood cells are affected, it's thought that the immune system is lowered for about 5 hours after. Another study shows that sugar, especially fructose, may negatively impact the immune response to viruses and bacteria.
How to test your immunity?
Detection of low immunity can be performed by two tests: hemoleucogram and immunogram. Hemoleucogram is a screening method that analyzes red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, among other parameters.
The immunogram determines the number of immunoglobulins in the blood and is especially recommended for people who have had frequent infections.
How do you know if your immune system is bad?
A healthy immune system can deal with all pathogens. But most of the time, the unbalanced lifestyle we have, leads to a weakened immune system. The body does not give up immediately but first sends a few alarm signals. Here are some of the main manifestations of a weakened immune system:
- common colds (including urinary tract infections, repeated skin infections, rash)
- allergic reactions
- inflammation of the lymph glands
- candidiasis (vaginal and buccal)
- the skin is harder to heal from an injury
- frequent headaches and insomnia
- chronic diarrhea
How to boost the immune system?
- take your daily intake of vitamins and minerals
- drink water
- do not smoke
- moderate alcohol consumption
- eat lots of fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants
- practice sports regularly
- maintain a healthy weight
- get enough sleep (7-8 hours of restful sleep)
- controls stress
- go to the doctor regularly
What weakens your immune system? As I’ve shown, there are lots of factors that can destabilize the proper functioning of the most complex network of cells and proteins in your body. Quitting bad habits, adopting a balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense food, and living a healthy lifestyle can help strengthen the immune system and improve your overall health.