How much do you know about your immune system, and do you know how to properly boost it?
Having a healthy immune system is always brought up during cold and flu season, but when Covid came into our world it became an even bigger topic. The strength of a person’s immune system played a major role in how the virus affected them.
Although immune system health is brought up around the times of the year when people are more likely to get sick, it should be a year-round focus. Boosting your immune system isn’t something that you can immediately fix. That boost happens when you incorporate the proper foods and behaviors.
To provide a better understanding of immune health and its importance, this article will cover what the immune system is, the difference between a weak and strong immune system, different immune system diseases, and how to boost your own immune system.
What is the immune system and how does it work?
Your immune system comprises a network of cells, tissues, and organs that make the substances your body needs to fight off infections and diseases. The immune system also includes your white blood cells and the organs and tissues of the lymph system.
The different components of your immune system work together to fight off the germs we encounter on a daily basis, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins.
There are two parts of your immune system. They are the innate immune system, which is the one you are born with, and the adaptive immune system, which is developed when you are exposed to microbes that can cause illnesses.
Your innate, or natural, immune system becomes active as soon as you are born and is inherited from your genetics. The job of your innate immune system is to keep germs from entering the body. Think of it as the body’s first protector.
For example, if you inhale something your body thinks is toxic or foreign, a lot of times you will start coughing. This is the innate immune system’s first response to expel whatever shouldn’t be there.
Your adaptive immune system develops as your body is exposed to specific germs or toxins. This introduction can either be through naturally getting sick from being exposed or a vaccination. Once germs enter the body, your innate and adaptive immune systems work together to make antibodies to protect you.
The best example of this is how certain vaccines will introduce your body to a virus or bacteria to trigger your immune system. Once introduced, your body makes the antibodies to fight it, and those antibodies will remain there to protect you if you come across the same germs while out living your life.
As your body comes into contact with different germs and diseases, your immune system keeps a record of it. Therefore, the second time you catch a particular illness might not be as bad as the first time around. Your body is now trained to defeat the illness, and it doesn’t take as long.
Keep in mind that it would need to be the exact same type of illness for your body to have the proper defense. A different strain of the same illness would require the immune system to build up antibodies against the new strain.
Signs of a weak immune system
Even though your immune system is inherited, whether your immune system is strong or weak depends on many variables. What germs you’ve been exposed to throughout your life, your sleeping patterns, eating habits, medicines, and overall well-being affect your immune system. It also deteriorates as you age. People who never got sick during their childhood or young adult years might notice they catch illnesses quicker as they get older.
Here are 5 signs of a weak immune system:
- You get sick easily or frequently, and it takes longer for you to get well. This is typically the primary way people determine whether they have a strong immune system. If you have a strong immune system, you might get sick a few times out of the year and easily recover. Whereas if you have a weak immune system, you might find yourself constantly sick and it takes a long time for you to fully recover.
- You’re constantly stressed out. Stress lowers the number of white blood cells you have. White blood cells are vital to fighting off infection and the lower their count is, the more at risk you are of getting sick.
- Your wounds take a long time to heal. A weak immune system won’t be able to work and heal wounds or injuries quickly. This can cause even more complications because those areas are then more susceptible to infections.
- You deal with consistent stomach problems. Over 70% of your immune system is in your gut. Because of this, if your immune system is weak, your digestive system will be affected. This can appear as frequent diarrhea, constipation, bloating, etc…
- You’re always tired. Everyone gets tired at some point. That’s normal. But with a weak immune system, you might always feel as though your energy levels are low. Even if you are getting the rest you need. Since your body is constantly coming in contact with different microbes and germs, a weak immune system works harder to fight them off. This takes away from your body’s overall reserved energy.
Immune system disorders and diseases
As you can imagine, since the immune system is so important to your health, any issues within the immune system can be a major problem.
An immune system disorder, such as autoimmune or immunodeficiency disease, is anything that causes the immune system to either be overactive, underactive, or react when it shouldn’t.
Listed below are three diseases and examples of each.
Overactive Immune Diseases
An overactive immune system will perceive an allergen, anything that causes an allergic reaction, as a bigger threat than it is. This overactivity can also lead to autoimmune diseases.
- Respiratory diseases such as allergies – coughing, wheezing, and sneezing caused by your immune system overeating to harmless threats like dust and pollen.
- Autoimmune hives – itchy welts that occur when the immune system overreacts to an allergen and attacks normal tissues; your body produces an autoantibody that activates the mast cells on the surface of the skin
- Psoriasis – when the overactive immune system speeds up the growth of skin cells
Autoimmune diseases occur when your body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells and organs. As of now, researchers aren’t sure what causes autoimmune diseases.
- Lupus – causes inflammation throughout the body like your joints, brain, skin, kidney, lungs, etc
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – occurs when the immune system begins to attack the lining of the intestines
- Type 1 Diabetes – the immune system identifies insulin-producing cells as an invader and begins destroying them and lowering insulin production
When the immune system is so weak that it can barely fight off disease and infection, or it cannot fight them off at all, that results from immunodeficiency. These types of diseases are categorized into primary disorders, which are those you could be born with, and secondary disorders, which are those that occur later in life.
- Common variable immunodeficiency (CVID) – as the most common primary immunodeficiency disease, this disease causes your body to produce low levels of antibodies and suffers will deal with repeated infections
- HIV/AIDS – this secondary immunodeficiency disease is the most well known; it attacks a specific type of immune system cell, weakening the immune system; once it’s weakened, other infections that wouldn’t be an issue can become severe or deadly
- Malnutrition – even though it is a secondary immunodeficiency disease, it is the primary cause of immunodeficiency worldwide; can cause immune system defects, which results in death from infections the body could normally fight rather than starvation, as most would assume.
If you are suffering from a weakened immune system, or want to make sure you keep yours up to par, there are many ways to do so.
Immune System Boost
Remember, changes to your body won’t happen overnight. If you aren’t currently taking care of your immune system, you won’t immediately see a change. If you work towards building your immune system now, and continue to fuel it, your body and health will reap the benefits in the future.
Here are 7 ways you can start boosting your immune system today
1. Drink more water
This might be the easiest one you can start doing right now. There are many reasons water is important to our health, but even more so when it comes to your immune system. Water helps carry oxygen to your body cells, which helps them function properly, and it also helps remove toxins from the body. Removing those toxins makes the job of your immune system easier.
2. Get enough sleep
With so much to do every day, sometimes sleep is the last thing on your mind. If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter for work or school, you know how that goes. You might not require as much sleep as the next person, but getting the required amount your body needs is vital. Not only does sleep restore your energy, but your body repairs itself during this time too. Also, during a good night’s sleep, research has found that the quality of your cells that fight infection improves.
3. Eat the right foods
What you put into your body will affect every aspect of your body’s health. The immune system is not exempt from this. Without the proper nutrients, your immune system isn’t getting the fuel it needs to stay in good shape. Also, a poor diet can lead to disease and complications that require the immune system to work harder.
Here are a few foods you can incorporate into your diet to help your immune system.
- Acai Berries
- Foods high in vitamin C (such as citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes…)
- Probiotic foods (such as yogurt, pickles, specific cheeses…)
- Prebiotic foods (such as oats, bananas, garlic…)
- Ginger root
- Green tea
This is a short list of foods that can help your immune system, but the best rule of thumb is to have a healthy diet overall. There are specific nutrients that are vital to the function of your immune system cells and they are vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein. If your diet includes these, you’re already providing your immune system with what it needs.
Physical activity is always at the top of any list when it comes to maintaining your health, but it might surprise you how it affects your immune system.
When you are exercising, the white blood cells and antibodies that fight disease move more rapidly. As they move throughout the body quicker, it is a possibility that they can detect and fight off infections quicker.
The more you exercise, the more you are moving your infection fighters around your body. Always stay within your own limitations when it comes to exercise, but be sure to include it in your habits. This can be something as simple as walking 20 minutes a day.
5. Reduce stress
Reducing your stress levels might be easier said than done, but there are ways to do so. It’s also important that you do.
As mentioned earlier in the article, stress lowers your white blood cell count. This means you have fewer of the good guys fighting against disease and infection. If you’re stressed with a lower white blood cell count, you’re at risk of getting sick more quickly than if you weren’t stressed. Also, being sick comes with its own stress, which only exacerbates the situation.
If you’re having trouble dealing with stress, try meditating or finding a quiet place to decompress regularly.
There are plenty of supplements that will say they boost your immunity. While there are some supplements that can help, such as those containing vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, etc., not all supplements are made the same. Make sure anything you take has been tested and from a reputable company.
Research has shown that your body absorbs the nutrients better when it’s consumed through your food, but supplements can be an added boost if you feel you need them.
7. Preventative measures
Your immune system is working around the clock to keep you protected from illnesses and diseases. One way you can thank it is by not making it work harder than it needs to.
Although some illnesses are unavoidable, there are steps you can take to avoid getting sick. Washing your hands, staying away from others when they are sick, and seeking treatment when necessary are a few ways you can protect yourself and your immune system.
Your immune system is a network of organs, cells, and tissues that is your body’s defense against viruses and bacteria. Your innate immune system protects you from birth, while your adaptive immune system develops as you come in contact with various microbes.
If you experience frequent illnesses, constant fatigue, or slow recovery times, there’s a chance your immune system could be weak.
There are various reasons your immune system could be weak. It could be something simple like a lack of sleep or temporary medicines you’re on. On the opposite side, it could be something serious, such as an autoimmune disease.
Either way, there are ways you can boost your immune system so it can properly fight for you. Some of those ways include a change in diet, getting an adequate amount of sleep, or taking a break to destress.
We hope that you’re able to take something away from this article to help improve your immune system and health overall.