Consisting of cells, tissue, and organs, the immune system is a complex biological defense mechanism that works around the clock to protect us from disease and illness. When it detects a pathogenic virus or bacteria, it sends white blood cells and antibodies to neutralize the threat. Sometimes, the immune system is better at performing this task than it is at other times. This article reveals nine simple and effective ways to strengthen your immune system.
The average adult catches between two and five colds every year. It’s frustrating when you have a busy week planned, only to wake up feeling the onset of a cold. Since there’s no cure, doctors can only prescribe medication to manage symptoms. The good news is you can lower your risk of illness by boosting your body’s immune system.
1. Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep is essential to a healthy, functioning immune system. But many people don’t get enough of it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of the U.S. adult population gets less than seven hours of sleep per night.This chronic lack of shut-eye can take a toll on your health, weakening your immune system and making you more susceptible to infection. That doesn’t mean you need to sleep 10-plus hours. Researchers say seven to eight hours is an adequate amount of sleep for adults.
2. Don’t Smoke
Smoking doesn’t just impair respiratory function and increase the risk of cancer; it also suppresses the immune system. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, 43 of which are carcinogenic. Research shows exposure to these substances reduces antibodies and makes you more vulnerable to infection. So, if you want to stay healthy, don’t smoke.
3. Manage Stress
Statistics show roughly one-third of Americans live with extreme stress. Caused by your job, finances, relationships, health, or a combination thereof. Stress can take a toll on your health in many ways. As your stress levels rise, specific biological changes happen to your body, including elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And when cortisol levels become too high or too low, it weakens your immune system.
There are several things you can do to manage your stress levels, including the following:
• Reduce intake of caffeine and alcohol
• Take slow, deep breaths
• Practice yoga
• Keep a daily journal of your thoughts and feelings
• Maintain a positive attitude
• Reach out to friends and family
4. Catch Some Rays
The amount of time you spend in the sun may also affect your body’s ability to fight infection. Individuals who stay cooped up indoors 24 hours a day are more likely to become sick due to a weakened immune system. Studies show that sunlight activates white blood cells (T cells) in the body, encouraging them to move more quickly through the body. As a result, it gives your immune system a helping hand, while making it more efficient at neutralizing invading pathogens.
Of course, sun exposure is also a catalyst for vitamin D production. Sunlight doesn’t contain vitamin D, but it triggers a biochemical reaction in your body to produce vitamin D. Keep in mind that too much sunlight can harm your skin. Because sunlight is a type of ultraviolet (UV) light, it damages the surface at a cellular level, causing wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and early aging. To reap the immune-boosting benefits of sunlight without suffering from its harmful effects, shoot for 12 to 15 minutes of mid-day sun exposure daily.
5. Use Allergy Medication Sparingly
Approximately 50 million Americans suffer from nasal allergies, and 15 million suffer from food allergies. Allergies are characterized by an overactive immune system response to an otherwise harmless compound. Someone who’s allergic to tree pollen, for instance, may experience a runny nose, red eyes, sneezing, and itching when exposed to airborne tree pollen. The dust is harmless, but the individual’s immune system wrongfully identifies it as an invading pathogen, resulting in the symptoms of an allergy attack.
While drugs like corticosteroids and antihistamines can reduce the severity and frequency of allergy attacks, you should use them sparingly, because long-term use could increase the risk of infection. The problem with corticosteroids, antihistamines, and similar allergy medications is they suppress the immune system. Here is how they basically work: By suppressing the immune system, your body doesn’t overreact to the offending allergen. As a side effect, though, you become more susceptible to infectious disease and illness.
6. Cut Back on Refined Sugar
Sugar consumption has reached epidemic proportions. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the average American consumes more than 150 pounds of the sweet stuff every year. Sugar, especially the refined type, contributes to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and more. Additionally, sugar suppresses the immune system, slowing down white blood cells and making them less effective at neutralizing bacteria.
Current dietary guidelines recommend adults consume no more than 10% of their daily caloric intake in the form of sugar. That usually means about 35 grams of sugar for men and 25 grams for women.
Exercise is essential to a healthy and functional immune system. When you are physically active, it stimulates white blood cells and antibodies, so they detect and neutralize invading pathogens more quickly.
Like sunlight, however, too much exercise can damage your health. High-intensity training temporarily suppresses the immune system. You can lift weights and perform other “intense” exercises but give your body at least 48 hours to rest and recover between sessions.
You’ve probably heard of probiotics and how they can assist in a healthy digestive system, but did you know they can also strengthen your immune system? A recent Swedish study of 181 workers found those who drank a probiotic supplement took 33% fewer sick days than their counterparts, who did not consume the probiotic supplement.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria and yeast cultures found in foods like yogurt and kefir. Once they make their way into your stomach, they work to kill other, more harmful microorganisms.
9. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Finally, try adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend five to 13 servings daily. However, most Americans fall short of this amount.
Fruits and vegetables are an essential component of a healthy immune system. They contain antioxidants, vitamins, and other vital nutrients needed for our body to fight infection. If you don’t consume enough, your body will lack critical nutrients necessary for a functional immune system.
Following these nine tips will give you the upper hand against infections. If you get sick, don’t panic. Drink plenty of fluids and rest, while limiting your exposure to other people.