With Covid-19 still raging on – along with various other winter bugs – now has never been a worse time to have a weak immune system.
Our immune system helps to defend our body against bacteria, viruses, fungi and various other microbial threats. A complex network of organs (such as our appendix, spleen and tonsils) and cells (such as lymphocytes and neutrophils) help to keep it working. If these organs and cells aren’t getting the nutrients and oxygen that they need, your immune system is likely to become weak.
A number of things can cause our immune system to become weakened. Below are just some of the things that could negatively affect your immune system.
Not enough sleep
It’s when we are asleep that our body does most of its fighting against infections. This is when our body produces a lot of antibodies to help fend of bacteria and viruses. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your body isn’t able to produce the necessary amounts of antibodies, allowing infections to run rife.
How much sleep should we be getting per night? Ideally seven to nine hours. If you’re getting much less than this per night, your body isn’t able to get through its full cycle – which could mean that it doesn’t have a chance to produce enough antibodies. Consequently, it could be time to start upping your sleep.
Going to bed earlier may be an obvious solution for many of us. If you struggle to get to sleep at night, there are many solutions that you can look into from taking a hot bath before bed to using sleep supplements. If you regularly wake up in the night, consider whether you need to buy a new mattress or drink less water before bed (if you keep waking up to pee!). Unfortunately, if you’re a new parent, there may be little you can do to get a good amount of sleep other than trying to nap when you can during the day (the average new parent only gets four hours of sleep per night – but that doesn’t last forever).
Smoking damages the lungs, which in turn reduces oxygen levels and reduces circulation. This makes it harder for oxygen and nutrients in the blood to reach the organs and cells necessary for fighting disease. It’s for this reason that long-term smokers tend to be very susceptible to catching illnesses.
Quit smoking and you could boost your immune system. Vaping could be a healthier alternative to take up in order to help you quit. While further studies are still needed to fully understand the long-term effects of vaping, it’s short-term negative impact on the lungs is not as severe as smoking. There are also other ways to quit smoking that you could also try if vaping isn’t for you.
After a heavy night of drinking, you’re more likely to catch a cold or flu. This is because consuming large amounts of alcohol weakens the immune system by impairing immune cells and dehydrating the body.
If you want to keep your immune system strong, it could be important to lower your alcohol consumption. Studies show that drinking the likes of beer and wine in moderation can actually be beneficial to your immune system. The issue is that many people don’t know when to stop – if you’re able to stick to one or two drinks, you could be doing your health a favour, but if you regularly exceed this, you’ll be doing the opposite.
A poor diet
Our diet plays a vital part in the performance of our immune system. By maintaining a good diet, you can ensure that your immune system receives all the vital nutrients required to help it work. If you have a poor diet, your immune system is likely to be starved of these nutrients and you won’t be able to fight diseases.
Exactly which foods should you eat to keep your immune system strong? Pretty much all forms of fruit and vegetable will help bolster your immune system – many of them contain vitamins and minerals necessary for immune function. Citric fruits are particularly effective due to being full of vitamin C. Food like spinach, broccoli and bell peppers are also loaded with this vitamin. It could also be worth looking into the best herbs to support your well-being – the likes of turmeric and oregano offer a lot of immune system support. Garlic is also known to have antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties (we’re not sure if it will keep the vampires away, but it could help fend off diseases).
Which foods should you avoid? Anything that’s full of processed fat or processed sugar is likely worth avoiding as it won’t have any nutritional value. If you’re living off cakes, chips, soft drinks and burgers, you can expect to have a weakened immune system. Occasionally treating yourself to these foods is fine – but don’t make them the staple part of your diet.
Too much time indoors
While we should all be making efforts to socially distance right now, staying indoors all day may not be the best defence against the virus. Spending lots of time indoors could lead to a deficiency in vitamin D – which is vital for the performance of our immune system. Spending time outdoors also allows you to breathe in a fresher source of oxygen, which can also help to boost your immune system.
Try to get outdoors every day. Even if it’s a pretty miserable day, you’ll still be exposing yourself to some sunlight, which will be giving you the vitamin D you need. Going on a short ten minute walk locally could be all that’s needed to keep your immune system in check. This leads onto the next vital factor that could be affecting your immune system…
Lack of exercise
Exercising is one of the best things you can do to boost your immune system. Being physically active helps to improve circulation, allowing nutrients and oxygen to get to our organs and cells faster. Exercise also causes us to breathe harder, helping us to exhale bacteria and viruses in our lungs and airways.
Making a conscious effort to exercise every day could help to keep your immune system strong by providing it with all the nutrients and oxygen it needs and by helping you to repel harmful microbes. Exercise can come in all forms from walking to weight lifting to yoga. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy so that you can maintain it on a regular basis.
Chronic stress can have a negative impact on the immune system. The stress hormone, cortisol, lowers the number of immune cells that we produce. It’s why you’re more likely to catch an illness when you’re overworked, battling anxiety or overcoming grief.
Stress is a natural part of life and cannot always be avoided. However, there are plenty of ways in which you can destress so that it’s not chronic. Proven stress busters include exercise, laughter, listening to music, dancing, taking a hot bath and meditating. Consider which is the best stressbuster for you. Getting a good night’s sleep and taking breaks from responsibilities such as work and parenthood can also be essential for combating stress.