Learning how to boost your immune system naturally can be a game-changer. When operating at its peak performance, our immune system can pinpoint and remove risks to wellness, recognize and imitate previous immune responses, and repair cellular and tissue damage. If it is running too high or too low, however, it can produce debilitating pain and allow all types of disease to develop like autoimmunity.
While our culture is used to prescription solutions and quick fixes, it’s important to understand that the immune system is very detailed. It takes more than just increasing the amount of cells to really improve and protect our health. In other words, we can’t just take something (like vitamin C) to boost the immune system. (1) With that said, we can certainly identify some steps to take to help the immune system function more efficiently and prevent what drags it down. I like to call it bolstering the immune system.
Understanding the Immune System
An antigen is a toxin or foreign substance that induces an immune response in the body. Most of the time, this immune response is the production of antibodies (blood proteins with regions that bind specifically to a particular antigen to neutralize it). In laymen’s terms, antigens are the bad guys and antibodies are the good guys. The good guys are sent out to seek and destroy when your body is invaded by the bad guys.
The more often the body is successful at destroying an antigen, the tougher and more varied the immune system becomes; this is called acquired (or adapted) immunity. (1) The long term immune response involves white blood cells called lymphocytes that produce antibodies that assists the body in breaking down antigens. The cells then preserve memory of deactivating or destroying the antigens, then remain until they need to reproduce that action in the future.
Because of the way the immune response is switched on, the immune system is entwined with the circulatory, endocrine, digestive, neurological, and integumentary systems, to name a few. One action always influences many processes, and for the immune system specifically, can have far encompassing results. The most important thing is, the whole body works together.
The skin is an example of the immune system preventing many destructive substances from spreading to the rest of the body. Fevers also perform as an early reaction, raising the body temperature over what the pathogen can endure. We are all brought into this world with immune function called innate immunity, the first line of protection against disease. This is the fast-acting response to an invading antigen – germ, bacteria, or virus – blocking it from ever spreading to the body to become an illness. Mucous snares them, stomach acid and enzymes can shut down or kill them, and coughing can remove them.
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What Factors Weaken Immune Responses?
When it comes to proven strategies to boost your immune system, one factor that is often left out of the equation is to avoid those things that hinder your immune response in the first place. In other words, you have to stop the bleeding before healing can begin.
The theory is that your immune system will function at full capacity if left alone to do its job. If lifestyle factors, both physical and mental, harm the immune system, it will never be free to do what it was designed to do, and no amount of “boosting” will help because you’ll always be running in a negative equity situation – like taking one step forward, but two steps back.
5 Things that Cause a Weak Immune System
Closely linked with neurological and hormonal functions, immune response is altered when we are under heavy stress or are not recovering well with good sleep habits. (2,3) A sedentary lifestyle can also lead to sluggish body systems, and the immune system is no exception. (4)
The human body processes, distributes, and responds to everything that we consume. One classic study, in particular, demonstrated the effect that sugar consumption has, especially on the immune system.
When sugary drinks were consumed, the immune system operated about half as well as it should have, and this deficiency extended for at least five hours after the sugar was consumed. (5) Similarly, an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids, found in processed carbs and meats, can produce inflammation throughout the body, causing pain and inflammatory disease. (6)
These are five primary things that cause a weak immune system:
- Length of life
- Poor eating habits
- Inadequate exercise
- Altered Environment
1. Length of Life Endangers the Immune System
Regrettably, one of the enormous opponents of the immune system is also unalterable: length of life. As the body ages, immune functions dwindle. Lymphocytes are not as widespread, and the innate response is sluggish. But while we can’t stop time, we can actively strive to turn back its influence. (2)
The same basic activities that help us to feel youthful also seem to help the body to function as though it is young. Mature men and women who exercise routinely have a more powerful immune system later in life than those who continue to be inactive. (3) Eating a diet loaded in antioxidants helps to turn around the loss that time, stress, and pollutants have done, which in turn permits the immune system to keep going. (4)
Being up to date about what will cause a weak immune system, and strengthening the body with healthy habits, encourages us to slow the march of time and retains immune function into our golden years.
2. Eating Habits Impact Immune Response
Two distinctive aspects come into play when thinking about our eating habits and the immune system. The first is how we ingest unhealthy items and then feel defeated (the innate response we just talked about), and the second is the way that our eating habits shock immune function.
Stomach acid is a tough substance, but it doesn’t wipe out everything that comes its way. The intestines attack antigens that make it through the stomach. Immune cells contribute to some of this effort, and the intestinal flora help as well. The body consists of a notable supply of microbes, and an abundance of them are on our side, helping to stop the ones that aren’t. (5)
The remainder of these microbes is determined in a large part by what we eat and drink. Standard American Diets (SAD) normally result in a very different “view” of intestinal bacteria than what we assume from more conventional diets. (6) This, combined with our knowledge that sugar can diminish the immune system and vitamins (notably vitamin D) can fortify it, helps to show us how our food usage can cause or crush our immune response.
3. Exercise Is Wound Together With Immunity
It has become standard norm now: eat well and exercise regularly. But we cannot become insensitive to these basic needs. We may not quite recognize the connection that exercise has to immunity, but we are aware they are connected. Continuing to be inactive, as reported above, can decrease immune function. On the other end of the spectrum, very demanding exercise can also lead to impairment. (7)
We know the way we take care of our bodies influences the way our bodies serve us. Exercise is vital when it comes to immune function and avoiding illness, particularly chronic illness. The key is to make viable, pleasurable changes toward regular moderate exercise. (8) To put exhausting demands on the body is not only challenging but will likely do more harm than good.
4. Anxiety Destroys the Immune System
While most stressors in our Western way of life are mental or emotional, they have no less effect on the immune system than continued physical stress. As with exercise, not all types of anxiety are equal, and not all have the same effect on the body.
A weak immune system is sensitive to anxiety and its impact on the body, and they can be triggered into action by these changes. (9) Short term anxiety, even at high levels, is not usually a difficulty for the immune system. However, constant stress drains the immune system enough to cause the body to be susceptible to major illness. (10) Releasing anxiety – through enjoyable exercise or a wholesome diet – can therefore be valuable to the immune system. Do you see a pattern yet?
5. Environment Can Alter Immune Strength
We are constantly touching, ingesting, and breathing pollutants that our body never intended to experience. Fortunately, our lungs and respiratory system, lined with mucous able to catch antigens with every breath, are at the forefront of immune function. (11)
Environmental pollutants are an assault on the immune system, taking up immune resources and even affecting cell function. We often think of smog and chemical pollution, but excessive alcohol and any cigarette smoke can be just as harmful. (12) We cannot begin to eradicate all of the toxins in our environment, but what we do have authority over can be eliminated, to the benefit of the entire body.
Eliminating the 5 leading immune system destroyers is a critical part of repairing and rebuilding your own personal immune system. Understanding immune function and how it works is the first line of defense against disease and is the key to having a healthy immune system.
5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System
Just as diet and lifestyle can alter the immune system negatively, we can use those same principles to find simple ways to boost your immune system naturally.
1. Nutritious Diet
Nutrition is the first tool to put in your toolbox for a balanced body and healthy lifestyle. Paying attention to the food and drink you consume can make or break your immune responses when cold and flu season arrives and you are exposed to more illnesses. Minimize sodas, sugars, and other processed carbs to keep your immune system alert and focused on threats of disease. To maximize immune-boosting antioxidants and keep your body balanced and fed, add these healthy foods into your diet (7):
Getting a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables, with high quality meats only a few times per week, can also help to balance omega-3 and omega-6 to keep inflammation away. (8) The state of bacteria in the gut is another diet factor that can contribute to immune health. Having enough good bacteria to balance out offending bacteria can help the immune system to function well. (9) Gut health can be improved by consuming high-fiber foods, taking probiotics, and avoiding processed foods
2. Managing Stress Levels
Stress is a major culprit of immune inhibition. (10) In the Western world, our bodies react to perceived stress as though we are fighting for our lives, but the problem might actually be financial, interpersonal, or simply not giving ourselves a break. In order to lessen this perceived stress, try the following:
- Practice mindfulness
- Incorporate meditative relaxation methods, such as yoga
- Create a more balanced schedule
- Prioritize adequate sleep
3. Sufficient Rest
Without enough sleep, we don’t allow the brain and immune system enough time to interact. (11) Simply creating a period of restfulness before bed and enjoying a full night of sleep can help to bolster the immune system, particularly during times when illness is more likely.
4. Consistent Exercise
Exercise is a factor in immune health, but it is another area where balance is important. Very strenuous exercise can be too hard on the immune system, while a sedentary life can slow it down. On the other hand, moderate exercise helps to keep the body running smoothly. (12) Consistency is more important than harsh or heavy calorie burning, allowing your body to adapt to the habit and utilize the efforts most efficiently. Examples of good consistent exercise are walking, jogging, swimming, and yoga, but choose what is most enjoyable and sustainable for your life.
5. Quality Supplements
Of course, vitamins, minerals, and herbs have been used for generations to strengthen your immune system, and even centuries, to help bolster immune system effectiveness. Along with balancing the diet, reducing stress, recovering with sleep, and energizing with exercise, consider these quality supplements for their stress-reducing and immunomodulatory effects:
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