How to weaken your immune system
You probably hear and read many articles about how you can boost your immune system, but did you know that you can be making it worse? Here are 5 was you can be weakening your immune system:
1. Not getting enough sleep
Not getting enough sleep can have a detrimental impact on your immune function. Rest is important to allow your cells and hormones to function properly. According to Mayo Clinic, "people who don't get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick." Sleep deprivation causes a decrease of proteins in the immune system called cytokines as well as a decrease in antibodies, which are important in fighting infection. Many studies have been done on sleep deprivation and its effects on immune function and other body functions. According to the Sleep Foundation,"researchers in the Netherlands and United Kingdom compared the white blood cell counts of 15 healthy young men under normal and severely sleep-deprived conditions. The greatest changes were seen in the white blood cells known as granulocytes, which showed a loss of day-night rhythmicity, along with increased numbers, particularly at night." Lack of sleep has basically an equivalent effect to being under stress.
2. Smoking Cigarettes
Smoking cigarettes depletes your body of vitamin C which plays a role in helping protect you from viruses and bacteria as well as helping maintain elasticity of the skin. Studies have shown that "smoking impacts both innate and adaptive immunity and plays dual roles in regulating immunity by either exacerbation of pathogenic immune responses or attenuation of defensive immunity." Smoking also causes a decrease in the active form of vitamin D. According to the Center for Disease Control, smoking "increases the risk for several immune and autoimmune disorders . New evidence finds that smoking is a cause of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease. The CDC also states that smoking also increases risk of bacterial and viral infections, post surgery infections, disease of the gums, bacterial meningitis, Chrohn's disease and cancer.
3. Eating too much sugar and salt
Sugar causes inflammation and also depresses immune function. It specifically depresses the white blood cells of our immune system that help us fight off bacteria, viruses and parasites. Limit sugar sweetened beverages like soda, juice, and even milk. Sugar also comes in the form of processed refined grains like pastas, breads, crackers and cookies. Substitute these with fresh fruits and vegetables instead. A study testing the effect of sugar and salt showed that sugar negatively effected immune function by deceasing the amount of Vitamin C in the cells, making the immune cells less reactive. The same study showed that excess salt promoted autoimmune disease by increasing the number of T helper cells which "damages living tissue." The platelets in our blood help with blood clotting, but this study also showed that excess salt and sugar is detrimental to platelet function. Excess salt and low calcium caused a decrease in platelet activity and low salt high calcium caused an increase in platelet activity. Excess sugar caused and increase in insulin production and increased platelet activity. Cancer cells also proliferate with excess sugar by metabolizing it for energy.
4. Vitamin deficiency and insufficiency
Many vitamins and minerals support immune function and vitamin D supports many immune roles in the body. A study showed that "cells of the immune system are capable of synthesizing and responding to vitamin D.
Immune cells in autoimmune diseases are responsive to the ameliorative effects of vitamin D and it can inhibit B cell proliferation, blocks B cell differentiation, and immunoglobulin secretion and suppresses T cell proliferation and decreases inflammatory cytokines and increases anti-inflammatory cytokines". Low vitamin D levels are associated with autoimmune disease.
4. Getting stressed out and Social Isolation
Stress plays a role in immune function. You may have gotten nervous cramming for a test and immediately after came down with a cold afterwards. According to Simply Phsychology, "When we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced." Cortisol is commonly known at the "stress hormone." It causes a decrease in white blood cells called lymphocytes. Loneliness and and social isolation are two particular stressors that negatively impact immune function because of mental stress. Stress can also have an indirect effect on immune function by increasing activities that decrease health like smoking, drinking alcohol, poor sleep, poor nutrition and lack of exercise and movement. According to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, Stress and social isolation are twice as likely as obesity to harm physical and mental health. She also states that "There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators. Another study found that found that the "leukocytes of lonely participants—both humans and rhesus macaques—showed an increased expression of genes involved in inflammation and a decreased expression of genes involved in antiviral responses" leading to a depression in immune function."