Dr. Shannon McGuire, ND
How Lifestyle Factors Affect the Immune System
Let’s talk about your immune system. Most of us know that our immune system is pretty important – and when it’s not functioning properly, it leaves us feeling run-down and sick. And nothing is worse than not feeling well. Your immune system helps fight off the external “bad guys”, and also helps prevent your own body from attacking itself. When your body is exposed to high amounts of stress, it will shut all of its energy into dealing with that stress, leaving your immune system unsupported.
Most people are exposed to some sort of stress on a daily basis, therefore challenging their immune systems all the time. Not to mention all the bugs that are found on every surface we touch everyday. If you’re someone who is constantly stressed, sick, and feeling run-down multiple times a year, then this article is for you. So how do we prevent from getting sick so often? How can we support our immune system to ensure it is in tip-top shape all year round? Consider these three simple tips to keep your body working at the level it needs to be to keep you healthy. Although basic, these lifestyle factors are KEY to keeping your body supported and functioning as best as it can.
My first suggestion: getting enough sleep. First and foremost, our body needs to rest and rejuvenate to properly fight off infection. One study from the University of Tubingen in Germany found that sleep and circadian systems exert a strong regulatory influence on immune functions. Their research showed that sleep deprivation has been shown to reduce the number of T cells (which are white blood cells essential for immune function and fighting infection). Their studies also showed that lack of sleep produced proinflammatory cytokines (which are cellular markers). This increases your risk of catching colds and flus, and ultimately feeling run-down all the time. Getting enough quality sleep has been shown to promote proper activation of these immune cells in creating antibodies, to bind and get rid of those invading pathogens. Most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Aim to have a bed-time routine, and get at least 7 hours of sleep, uninterrupted. If you’re not sleeping enough for other reasons, do it for your immune system!
My second suggestion: manage your stress levels. Research has shown that exposure to prolonged stress increases the hormone cortisol, which suppresses immune function if it remains high. There is a direct link to immune function and stress levels, as well as the development of other conditions such as autoimmune disorders and mental health problems. Stress-management techniques including meditation, yoga, and deep-belly breathing should be considered in those who are chronically being exposed to situations of stress. Your body (and mind) will thank you when you take the time to slow down, calm
yourself, and start supporting your body from a fundamental level.
And lastly: provide proper nutrients to your body. Diet is very important when it comes to your immune system. When you are sick or stressed, your body burns up the vitamins and minerals that are essential for cellular function much faster. Eating a clean diet with minimal amounts of refined grains, sugar, saturated fats, and all processed food is strongly advised. Studies have shown time and time again that ingestion of sugar causes white blood cell counts to decrease. White blood cells are essential to our immune system functioning, so decreasing their responsiveness is a guaranteed way to put your immune function at risk. Your diet should consist of mostly vegetables, some fruit, whole grains and protein
sources (from plants and animals). In times of acute colds, our body’s need extra vitamins and minerals such as: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Selenium, and Zinc. Vitamin A, C, E, and Se provide antioxidant properties to fight infection, and Zinc is known to optimize T cell production and is an important step in maintaining immune function.
Can it really be that easy by changing your sleep, stress, and diet patterns? Overall, there are many simple yet effective ways to support your body’s innate ability to heal itself, and keep your immune system strong. Prioritizing our immune health is not just to protect us daily from the common cold; but to support and prevent other conditions, and promote us to live our best life, happy and healthy.