A Definition of the Immune System
The immune system is a body system made up of cells and organs that protects our bodies from foreign substances, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses, to prevent infection and disease. Specifically, the immune system includes the spleen, lymph nodes, tonsils, bone marrow, and white blood cells, and all of these cells and organs work together to keep us healthy and prevent infection and illness. The immune system also works to protect us from infected cells and tumors.
What Weakens Our Immune System?
It is one thing to try to follow healthy living habits, but it is another thing to continue to engage in behavior that constantly weakens our immune systems. There are several things that weaken the immune system, and some of them may surprise you. We’ve listed a few of the most common culprits below.
- Lack of Sleep – Failing to get between seven and nine hours of uninterrupted rest each night has a detrimental effect on immunity. Prevention magazine reports that University of Chicago researchers found that men who get only four hours of rest a night for one week produced only half of the flu-fighting anitbodies in their blood, compared to those who slept between seven and a half and eight and a half hours a night.
- Stress – When people are continually stressed, their adrenal glands release extra cortisol to manage the stress. Elevated levels of cortisol lead to a decrease in the production of prostaglandins; slowed prostaglandin production allows for inflammation and immune suppression. Doctors know that elevated cortisol weakens the immune system because important immune system cells disappear from our blood during period of elevated stress.
- Alcohol – Dr. John Spangler is a professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. In an article for Everyday Health, Spangler explains: “Alcohol’s major metabolic, acetaldehyde, likely impairs ciliary function in the lungs, making them more prone to bacterial and viral invasion.” That means that just one night of excessive drinking has the potential to weaken the immune system’s response to invading pathogens. Plus, alcohol hinders the immune system’s ability to attack and break down bacteria and viruses, which means people who abuse alcohol are more at risk of infection.
- Poor Diet – Eating a diet high in refined sugars and highly processed foods that contain pesticides, chemical additives, and preservatives weakens your immune system and makes you more susceptible to developing chronic conditions. One study found that white blood cells’ ability to kill bacteria is seriously hindered for as long as five hours after a person consumes 100 g of sugar, which is the equivalent of three cans of soda.
- Polluted Air – Researchers found that smog and dirty air not only suppress the T cells, which are critical components of your immune system, but also cause inflammation. While you may not be able to do much to fix the air quality outside, you will be able to breathe more easily and help boost your immune system if you invest in an air purifier for your home.
- Obesity – Being overweight or obese leads to a weakened immune system. This is largely due to the fact that excessive weight harms the ability of white blood cells to produce antibodies and multiply in order to fight infection. Being overweight or obese also impairs the white blood cells’ ability to get to the site of an infection.
Boosting the Immune System
The immune system needs to be in top working condition to defend our bodies against microorganisms that cause disease. But, the immune system sometimes fails, which is why we get sick. It is ideal to do all that we can strengthen our immune system by adopting healthy-living strategies such as not smoking, eating diets high in fruits and vegetables and whole grains and low in saturated fats, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood pressure, getting adequate sleep, warding off infection by frequently washing our hands and thoroughly cooking meat and taking the right natural immune support supplements.
Your immune system is your body’s defense against illness and disease. Now that you know some of the factors that contribute to a weakened immune system, you can do your best to avoid them or change your living habits in order to help your immune system keep you healthy.