Do you often catch colds or the latest bug that is going around? If the answer is yes, chances are high that you have a weak immune system.
The immune system involves many biological structures and processes inside your body. When functioning properly, it helps fight off microbes or harmful organisms that can cause diseases and infections. It is actually your body’s primary defense system.
As your immune system is doing so many tasks to keep you free from so many diseases, it’s important to keep it strong and healthy.
In fact, a weakened immune system leaves the body defenseless against the germs and bacteria you come into contact with every day, making you more vulnerable to diseases.
Everyone is born with different levels of immunity. Some have stronger immune systems than others. There are many things that can harm your immune system and make it weak.
Here are the top 10 things you do that harm your immune system.
1. Binge Drinking
Excessive drinking has a damaging effect on your immune system. Alcohol can destroy your antibody cells that are necessary for fighting off cells infected by viruses.
Plus, being a dehydrating agent, it extracts water from the cells, causing them to die.
It also causes overall nutritional deficiency, depriving the body of valuable immune-boosting nutrients.
In fact, excessive drinking may lead to immune deficiency and increase your risk of developing certain diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other infections.
A 2015 study published in Alcohol – An International Biomedical Journal reports that even a single episode of binge drinking exerts effects on the immune system several hours to days after the episode.
While excessive drinking is harmful to your immunity and overall health, a glass of wine with dinner can have a positive impact on your health.
The key is to drink in moderation which is defined as up to 2 drinks per day for men and up to 1 drink per day for women, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
However, if you do not drink, there is no point in starting.
2. Smoking and Exposure to Secondhand Smoke
Inhalation of smoke, whether from tobacco or wood, has a direct impact on your immune function.
Cigarette smoke promotes the production of numerous pro-inflammatory cytokines and even increases immune hypersensitivity reactions. The harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke weaken innate defenses against pathogens and promote autoimmunity.
A 2014 study published in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society highlights the fact that cigarette smoke has immunosuppressive effects.
Cigarette smoke can affect both innate and adaptive immunity. In fact, children exposed to secondhand smoke suffer from repeated upper respiratory symptoms.
If you smoke, you must quit immediately. You must also try to avoid secondhand smoke by making your home a smoke-free zone, as well as only visiting malls, hotels and restaurants that have smoke-free zones.
3. Avoiding Sunlight
Overexposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) sunrays is damaging to the skin as well as your overall health. For this reason, many people avoid sunlight completely. But that, too, harms your immunity.
Sunlight helps build the immune system. When exposed to sunlight, the body makes vitamin D, which is necessary for proper functioning of the T cells that contribute to immune defenses. Plus, vitamin D plays an important role in calcium and bone metabolism.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine reports that vitamin D is important for modulation of the innate and adaptive immune responses. Its deficiency increases the risk of infection as well as many autoimmune diseases.
To help your body produce enough vitamin D, enjoy early morning sunlight (without sunscreen) for 10 to 15 minutes daily.
Avoid sunlight during the peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but if you are out in the sun during that time, do not forget to wear sunscreen.
4. Carrying Negative Emotions
Negative emotions, such as stress, sadness, fear, anger and worry, wear down your immune system.
When you are under stress, the cortisol level increases in the body. Cortisol alters immune system responses as well as suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes.
In addition, a high cortisol level reduces the production of ‘good’ prostaglandins that support immune function.
It has been found that chronic stress even makes you more susceptible to colds and the flu, as well as more serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.
To reduce stress, practice yoga, meditation, massage, aromatherapy and laughter.
In fact, laughter is a good medicine to fight stress as well as other negative emotions. A 2001 study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine shows that laughing has a positive effect on the immune system that lasts for as long as 12 hours.
5. Ignoring Personal Hygiene
Lack of personal hygiene indirectly affects your immune system. An unhygienic lifestyle exposes your body to more harmful germs, making you susceptible to more infections and diseases.
On the other hand, proper hygiene helps prevent infection and illnesses by eliminating germs and bacteria. You should always bear in mind that viruses and bacteria are present everywhere and will never miss an opportunity to attack your body.
However, too much hygiene can have a negative impact on your immunity. A 2006 study published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy suggests that lack of exposure to viruses and bacteria during childhood increases the risk of autoimmune diseases.
Personal habits like brushing your teeth twice daily, thoroughly washing your hands before eating, keeping your nails neat and tidy, taking a shower daily, cooking food at home hygienically and washing your clothes regularly can go a long way toward keeping infections at bay.
You can even create your own homemade hand sanitizer to sanitize your hands without using harmful chemicals.
Practice personal hygiene to strengthen your immune system, and teach your children good hygiene habits.
6. Using Toxic Makeup and Hygiene Products
Most people use makeup and/or hygiene products every single day. Several of these products, such as body washes, lotions, shampoos, cosmetics and even toothpastes, are high in toxins and harmful chemicals that can weaken your immunity.
In fact, use of such harmful products on the skin or scalp is more detrimental to the body than you can even imagine. Harmful chemicals on the skin get absorbed into the bloodstream without any filtering. This has a direct impact on how well your immune system functions.
A 2003 study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection reports that regular exposure to alcohol-based hygiene products leads to loss of the skin’s natural protective barrier. This in turn makes you more vulnerable to bacteria, molds and viruses.
Other chemicals, such as imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin and triclosan riclosan, used in makeup products are linked to suppression of the immune system as well as cancer and other health problems.
Ditch the harmful chemical-based makeup products for an all-natural look if you can. If needed, opt for products with fewer chemicals and make it a habit to read the ingredient list before buying anything.
7. Scrimping on Sleep
Due to busy lifestyles, many people ignore the importance of sleep, which has a direct impact on immunity. Poor sleep is associated with reduced immune system function.
Lack of sleep renders the immune system unable to restore its defense abilities. This is because the body produces flu-fighting antibodies in the blood when you sleep.
A 2013 study published in PLOS ONE reports that sleep loss causes changes to the system that regulates our immune defense. These long-term changes may contribute to the development of diseases.
Plus, regular sleep deprivation puts you at a higher risk of infection and other serious health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes and obesity.
Adults should sleep at least 7 to 8 hours every night. Children and teenagers need more sleep, ranging from 9 to 11 hours.
8. Physical Inactivity
If you are a couch potato and don’t incorporate any form of exercise in your daily routine, your immune system suffers a lot.
Moderate exercise supports immune function. During moderate exercising, blood flow increases, which promotes the process of expelling toxic waste out of your body.
Proper blood circulation even promotes circulation of antibodies and white blood cells that are important for fighting off infections.
A 2007 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology reports that regular moderate exercise is associated with a reduced incidence of infection as compared to a completely sedentary lifestyle.
This study also points out that strenuous exercise, however, causes a temporary depression of various aspects of immune function, which lasts for 3 to 24 hours after exercise.
Exercising for a little while each day is a great way to keep your body healthy and in shape.
9. Neglecting the Importance of Water
Proper hydration is essential for overall health as well as strong immunity. Without water, your body and immune system would not function properly.
Adequate water intake helps the immune system fight off infections. It also helps remove harmful toxins and waste products from your body. This helps your immune system better fight infections.
Low water intake can lead to dehydration, which impacts your immune system. According to a 2012 study published in Luminescence, dehydration results in immune system suppression.
Dehydration even affects your energy level and sleep quality, which can make you less likely to exercise, another trigger for a weakened immune system.
Any healthy person should drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day. However, water intake may depend upon the climate in which you live, how physically active you are, and your overall health.
10. Misuse of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are the keystone of modern medicine, but their misuse can generate unwanted side effects, such as stomach upset and diarrhea or even an allergic reaction.
Frequent and inappropriate use of antibiotics can harm the immune system, even your overall health.
First of all, it can lead to antibiotic resistance. This means that antibiotics that may have worked in the past will no longer work against bacteria or other microbes.
For treatment, you may need higher doses of medicine or stronger antibiotics, leading to more side effects.
Do not take antibiotics that were not prescribed specifically for you. If your doctor has prescribed antibiotics, make sure to complete the course. Always ask your doctor about the side effects.
Never take antibiotics for viral infections, as they do not work against viruses.