Your immune system is your first line of defense in protecting your body from disease and sickness. Your immune system has a full time job taking care of you, but what have you done for your immune system lately to help keep it healthy and strong? Could be you eat plenty of foods with antioxidants that help boost your immune system, but are you doing things that can also hurt your immune system? If you engage in any of the 5 habits below, you could be wrecking your immune system, no matter what other healthy things you do for it.
Wrecking Your Immune System Habit #1 – Smoking
Yes, we all know that smoking is really bad for us and can lead to all kinds of diseases to the heart and lungs and cause cancer. Even if you don’t smoke, just being around smokers can be detrimental to your health and to your immune system. Cigarette smoke can contain around 4000 chemical compounds of which 43 are identified as carcinogens. Non-smokers live around 7 years longer than smokers. If you are around people that smoke, the secondhand smoke can be almost as bad as if you were smoking yourself. It is estimated that around 3,000 non-smokers die of lung cancer in the U.S. each year because of secondhand smoke and 300,000 children develop respiratory tract infections from being exposed to secondhand smoke. If you are still smoking, whatever age you are, it’s not too late to quit and still do your immune system and general health a world of good. If you don’t smoke, good for you, but you can still do your body a favor by avoiding being around those that do. That doesn’t mean you have to ostracize your smoking friends and family members, just set boundaries such as no smoking in your house or car. If you are at an event where smoking is allowed and your friend lights up, just excuse yourself and tell them you’ll meet up with them in a bit. Many states now a days have laws about not smoking in public places so it is easier than ever to escape from secondhand smoke.
Wrecking Your Immune System Habit #2 – Not Enough Sleep
When you wake up in the morning, do you still feel tired? If so, then you are probably not getting enough sleep or not enough quality sleep. This can affect the number of killer cells in your immune system that combat germs and leave you more vulnerable to getting sick. Studies have also shown that lack of sleep can lead to changes in the body that resemble those brought on by aging, reduces the number of antibodies in your immune system, increases the stress hormone cortisol and can lead to intestinal problems, heart disease and other medical conditions. Adults generally need between 7 – 9 hours of sleep a night to stay healthy.
Wrecking Your Immune System Habit #3 – Stress
Chronic stress is another factor that has been shown to wreck your immune system. Studies have shown that this type of stress can weaken the immune system leading to a variety of diseases, cause increase in stress hormones that can lead to cancer growth increase, lead to cardiovascular disease, cause a reduction in killer cells, and cause reduced performance of macrophages.
With today’s fast paced world, stress is hard to avoid and a little stress is not that bad. It is the chronic stress that you need to find a way to counteract. This type of stress causes the body to produce too much cortisol, a stress hormone, and adrenaline, both of which negatively affect your immune system. Find what works for you to be able to have some relaxation time. It doesn’t matter whether it is exercise, a hobby, meditation, or yoga, it just matters that you find a way to unwind. Recent studies have found that laughter is a good medicine for stress reduction by decreasing stress hormones and increasing white blood cells your immune system uses to combat illness. Even the anticipation of an upcoming laughter filled event was shown in one study to reduce levels of stress hormones and increase levels of endorphins and growth hormones which are both beneficial to your immune system. Reducing stress can also help you sleep better which as we said before helps boost your immune system.
Wrecking Your Immune System Habit #4 – Being a Couch Potato
Yes, being a couch potato can be harmful to your immune system. What we mean specifically by this is being inactive, not socializing and not exercising. Many health conditions could be avoided by having a regular exercise program. This would include the 50 million people in the U.S. with high blood pressure, the 13.5 million with heart disease and 8 million with Type 2 Diabetes. Just 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week can go a long way to helping your immune system circulate your white blood cells. You don’t want to overdo the exercise though as that can actually negatively affect your immune system. Just don’t be one of the one in four adults in the U.S. that doesn’t do any exercise at all and consult your health care provider if you have restrictions or conditions that may determine how much exercise is right for you. A daily 30 minute brisk walk for most people is the right amount and has been shown to increase leukocytes which are immune cells for fighting infections. Studies also show that people with fewer social interactions get sick more often. So getting up off that couch watching TV every night and going out to a sports event, visit with friends, a concert or other social activity that puts you in contact with other people can improve your immune system health. One study showed results that subjects between the ages of 18 and 55 that had more contact with others were 4 times less likely to get cold viruses. Another study done with college students showed that those who felt alone had less immune system response to a flu vaccine and those who had friends and social connections had a stronger immune system response.
Wrecking Your Immune System Habit #5 – Taking Antibiotics Too Often
Antibiotics can sometimes be needed to treat bacterial infections. Too often though, we are given antibiotics for other types of illnesses that are not bacterial in nature. This causes several problems for the immune system. One problem is that your immune system is weakened as shown by lower levels of cytokines, which are hormones that are part of the immune system. Another problem is that overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial soap can create a resistance to them. In other words, over using them can cause them to stop being effective against bacteria. If you need to take antibiotics, just make sure what you are fighting off is a bacterial infection and not a virus or other type of infection. Also be sure to take the entire amount prescribed by your health care provider. Don’t stop just because you start feeling better. That can sometimes cause the bacteria that caused the illness in the first place to not be completely gone and then you have to start over later with a whole new round of antibiotics. Do it right the first time so you don’t have to introduce more antibiotics than you need to into your body. Antibiotics are also known to kill off the beneficial flora in your intestines. Part of having a healthy immune system is having a healthy gut which requires having a sufficient population of “good bacteria” to help control the “bad bacteria”. If you are on antibiotics or just finishing a round of antiobiotics, taking a probiotic supplement and digestive enzymes can be helpful for restoring a healthy gut.
Natural Solutions: Enzymes for Natural Immune System Support
The strength of your immune system depends a lot on the health of your gut. Digestion takes a lot of energy and the more energy needed to digest food, the less energy that is available for other things the body needs to be doing. Foods deficient in enzymes are especially hard on the digestion process which drains the body of vitality and feelings of well being. Our food sources today just don’t have enough enzymes to help keep the digestive process working well. Cooking and processing of foods kills the enzymes in them and even raw foods we buy are not fresh and pure enough to have all the enzymes we need. A high quality digestive enzyme supplement can help the body with the digestive process so that the body gets the nutrients it needs from the food it eats. Enzymes are necessary for everything in the body to function correctly from breathing, to thinking to circulating the blood. They are responsible for every chemical reaction associated with the body’s metabolism.
Natural Solutions: Eat Your Veggies and Fruits for Natural Immune System Support
Getting enough fruits and vegetables in your diet also can help keep your immune system healthy. Veggies and fruits high in antioxidants help protect your body from the damage of free radicals and symptoms associated with aging.
Natural Solutions: Support Your Stem Cells for Natural Immune System Support
Adult stem cells that occur naturally in our bodies are used to maintain and repair other cells in the body that are damaged. Their ability to divide and become other types of cells that have a specific job in the body makes them useful for immune system support. They can also remain inactive for a long time waiting until they are needed to repair cells damaged due to disease or injury. Scientists are currently working on experiments that show some types of adult stem cells are able to be genetically modified to be programmed as other cell types. For example, the cells that produce insulin that become damaged due to diabetes could be created from other pancreatic cells that are programmed to become those insulin producing cells. Regardless of what is to come from all the research with adult stem cells, we do know that the stem cells we have in our bodies serve to promote or suppress T-cell function, are able to differentiate into different tissues, produce over 30 types of growth factors and tissue chemicals and help recruit other local and systemic stem cells to focus on repairing damaged tissue. Taking a supplement that can support stem cell growth and function and is full of antioxidants will support the immune system and help fight damage from free radicals.
I hope this article has helped you to see how important it is to keep your immune system healthy and ways to support it as well as habits you can avoid that do not support it. A healthy diet with lots of antioxidants, get out and enjoy the world and people in it, stay active, stay away from cigarette smoke, get enough sleep and don’t overdo antibiotics, then if you need supplemental help, know that it is available to help you in your quest for a happier, healthier you.
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