15 Ways You Might Be Damaging Your Immune System

Your immune system is your body’s way of fighting off disease. It consists of a huge network of cells and tissues that fight off invading bugs… Simi - March 11, 2018

Your immune system is your body’s way of fighting off disease. It consists of a huge network of cells and tissues that fight off invading bugs and diseases by means of a complicated attack. The immune system is found throughout the body and is able to tell the difference between tissue that belongs to us and tissue that is foreign. If your immune system detects a virus or bacteria, it mounts an immune response to get rid of foreign invaders.

Your health and your immune system are directly related. If your immune system is strong, it will provide good protection against things like colds and flu. But if your immune system is weak, you are more likely to get frequent colds and other infections. In fact, you could suffer from things like sinus infections, as well as tiredness and lack of energy.

Although everyone’s immune system is different, it usually becomes stronger during adulthood. This is because we have been exposed to a lot of pathogens (foreign invading cells, eg. viruses) by then, and have developed stronger immunity. This is why adults and teenagers usually get sick less frequently than children. Once the immune system has fought off an invader, the specific antibody produced to fight the bug remains in your system for life.

To avoid illness, medical experts advise us to keep our immune systems strong by making healthy choices. Of course, diet and exercise are extremely important in promoting a strong immune system. But there are plenty of other things that you might be doing that are weakening your immune system. The most important thing to do is to ditch unhealthy habits and adopt healthier ones. Read on for 15 ways in which you could be damaging your immune system.

1. Poor personal hygiene

Experts agree that one of the best ways of avoiding illness such as colds and flu is to practice good hygiene. For a strong immune system, we must exercise proper hygiene. If hygiene is neglected your immune system will become weaker. This will leave you more vulnerable to germs that could lead to disease or infection.

Good hygiene means, above all, washing your hands frequently. Always wash your hands when you come home, after going to the toilet, before preparing food and before eating. Don’t forget to clean under your nails. This is an area rife with germs. Avoid putting your fingers in your mouth, and touching your nose. You might be transmitting a virus via your nose without knowing it. Brush your teeth twice a day, and floss once. A surprising benefit of this is the amazing fact that regular flossing has been linked by scientists to living a longer life!

Take a daily shower, and make sure the way you prepare your food is hygienic. Always make sure your food is fresh and washed where appropriate. Wearing clean clothes and washing your clothes after wearing them can also help to boost your immunity. Avoid using other people’s personal possessions. This includes razors, toothbrushes, etc. To share such items is to risk catching someone else’s harmful germs.

And good personal hygiene is not just good for your immune system. It’s also good for your mind! When you practice good daily hygiene habits, you feel good about yourself. This is important for your mental health. If you’ve ever seen someone who doesn’t practice good personal hygiene, you will know that they look unhealthy. Missing teeth, bad breath, body odor and unbrushed hair look unhealthy and might attract discrimination.

2. Using public facilities

It’s all very well to keep yourself and your home clean and free of illness-causing germs, but you can’t stay at home all day. What about when you go out? Coming into contact with public objects and facilities is unavoidable. The trouble is, when you go out you face a barrage of harmful germs all over the place. What can you do about it when you have to go to the store or visit your doctor’s room?

Some of the most germ-ridden items that you might encounter in public are things like the menu at a restaurant. How many hands have touched it? How many germs have contaminated it? What about that ketchup or mustard bottles? And what about the handles of grocery carts, and pens at banks and post offices? Public restrooms are full of harmful germs, as are door handles and toilet flush handles. All these things can act as carriers of viruses and bacteria from one person to another.

The answer to the problem lies in a few protective measures that you can take. When you go out, make sure you have your own paper, water bottle, tissues and wipes with you. Avoid touching public objects, and if you have to, avoid touching your face, mouth or nose afterward. Sanitize your hands with a disinfectant gel or wipe frequently. Use these wipes to clean shopping cart handles, communal pens and any other things you need to touch in public.

A healthy tip is to buy a whole lot of ballpoint pens and keep them in every bag you own. When you sign a credit card slip at the store, imagine how many hands have touched that pen before you. And imagine the number of cold and flu germs, not to mention more serious pathogens, are on that pen. No, don’t leave the house without your own pen. Use it to sign for the delivery guy, or your waiter or at the doctor’s rooms. Just don’t touch public pens … ever!

3. You eat a lot of sugar

Do you have a sweet tooth? Are you always snacking on something sugary? Well, it turns out that sugar is not only bad for the waistline and for the teeth, it’s also bad for our immune systems! White blood cells are one of the immune system’s weapons in the fight against harmful germs. Scientists have found that refined sugar has a tendency to weaken the white blood cells’ ability to kill off germs. The way this happens is that sugar stops vitamin C from getting into the white blood cells. This weakens these cells and weakens your immunity.

And the effect isn’t short-lasting. If you eat something sugary, the sugar starts to weaken your immunity within 30 minutes. This immune-suppressing effect can last for hours. This means that if you consume a lot of sugar-rich foods such as pastries, cookies, and sodas, your immune system might be in a weakened state all day long. This will make you more vulnerable to infections such as colds.

So does this mean that you have to give up sugar altogether? Not necessarily. Not all sugars are created equal. Sugar that has been refined such as ordinary white and brown sugar has the worst effect on your immune system. Foods that are made using refined sugars should be avoided as much as possible. That means soda, ketchup and other sauces, pies and pastries, and anything else containing sucrose.

Certain foods contain sugars that do not weaken the immune system. These include fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains. Fruits and vegetables contain slightly more complex sugar than the refined version. Eat at least five good servings of vegetables per day to boost your immunity. Don’t overdo it on the fruit, though. Many fruits are very high in sugar and should be consumed in moderation. One or two pieces of fruit a day is sufficient. The vitamin C in these foods will also help to boost your immunity.

4. Not drinking enough water

We’ve all heard it said: you should drink eight glasses or more of water every day. But do we remember? If you’re busy all day, it’s so easy to forget to drink water. The thing is, we humans are made up of mostly water. In fact, the adult human body is approximately 60% water! And this percentage is even higher in babies, at around 75%! These are average percentages. The amount of water in your body depends on various things like gender and level of fitness.

The trouble is, we lose water every day through sweating, digesting and urination, among other things. This means we need to replenish that water on a regular basis. Drinking sufficient water ensures that the body is properly hydrated and able to fight off infection. In fact, if your body is not properly hydrated, your immune system will be weaker than if you drink sufficient water. Water doesn’t only come in a glass. Water is also present in significant quantities in fruits and vegetables, so don’t forget your five a day.

Water actually assists all systems in the body to function at their peak. It enables the blood to take oxygen to all the cells of the body. This allows good functioning of all systems because they get plenty of oxygen. Water also allows your kidneys to flush out toxins from the body. If you don’t drink enough water, there is a danger that toxins will build up in the body. The consequences of this are potentially very dangerous.

Water also helps your body to digest food. It’s all very well to eat a health-promoting diet, but a lack of water can sabotage your efforts. And a healthy immune system that functions optimally is only possible with good nutrition. If you drink enough water, your cells will derive the maximum nutrition from the foods that you eat. And that’s not all. Water has all sorts of other positive effects on the immune system. So, remember to drink 8 to 10 glasses of water a day, and feel the difference.

5. Drinking alcohol every day

If you indulge in a few alcoholic drinks at the end of every day, you are weakening your immune system. It turns out that drinking too much alcohol can destroy antibodies. These are the cells that destroy other cells that are infected with viruses. That daily tippling habit also slows down the rate of white and red blood cell production. Over time, the result will be a weaker immune system, and a lowered ability to fight off infection and disease.

Scientists say that alcohol affects our immunity in many different and complicated ways, and the effects of drinking too much are many and varied. Drinking alcohol prevents your body from absorbing vital nutrients from the food you eat. In fact, drinking to excess can actually lead to nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition. Alcohol can also damage our organs, especially the liver. It can also stop the body from recovering properly from an injury. And it generally impedes the body’s ability to fight off infection.

The key to alcohol consumption is moderation. If you must drink, don’t make it a daily habit. To keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a minimum, it is recommended that you drink a maximum of 14 units per week. The size of a unit depends on the type of drink involved. For example, fourteen units is equal to 6 glasses of wine a week of no more than 175ml each. When it comes to beer, be it lager or ale, the limit is six beers of approximately 568ml each. In terms of spirits, the recommended maximum is 14 tots of 25ml each.

Keep track of how much you are drinking, and reduce your consumption if you are exceeding the recommended amount. If you have trouble reducing your alcohol intake, you might need help. Many people struggle to control the amount of alcohol they drink. If that is you, talk to your doctor who can help you find assistance. He or she might recommend that you attend a program to help you control your alcohol intake. This might involve detoxification, therapy and various other types of assistance.

6. Inhaling secondhand smoke

Obviously, one of the worst things you can do for your health in general, including your immunity, is to smoke. Smoking kills hundreds of thousands of people a year and causes damage to every system in the body. But what if you don’t smoke but are exposed to secondhand smoke? What if your partner is a smoker, for example, and you often breathe in their secondhand smoke? Well, research shows that exposure to secondhand smoke is almost as bad for you as smoking.

Being around smokers exposes you to all the toxic chemicals in their secondhand smoke. These toxins can cause serious immunity problems by repressing the cells responsible for fighting off illness. When you inhale that smoke, these toxins change the number of several different immune cells. It also stops other immune cells from functioning effectively.

Another good reason to avoid secondhand smoke is that it can make you vulnerable to infections of the respiratory system. It also makes you more prone to allergies and asthma, and even lung cancer. In fact, tobacco smoke contains over 4000 chemical products, 50 of which can cause cancer. The strange thing is that some of these cancer-causing products are more concentrated in secondhand smoke than the original smoke inhaled by the smoker. Secondhand smoke is twice as high in nicotine and tar as the smoke inhaled by smokers. Vaping and secondhand smoke lead the youth towards deadly illnesses.

It is obvious, then, that you need to avoid secondhand smoke as much as possible. Don’t spend time with people who smoke, or ask them to please not smoke in your presence. Don’t allow anyone to smoke in a room you are in. Keep away from places that allow smoking. Stay at smoke-free hotels when you travel so that you avoid left over smoke from previous guests. And encourage everyone in your life who smokes to quit. It’s not easy to quit smoking, but it can be done. Doctors and therapists can all help a smoker to quit and adopt a healthier lifestyle.

7. A poor diet

Studies show that eating a burger and fries can be as harmful to you as catching a life-threatening illness. It turns out that junk food causes the immune system to go haywire. It behaves as if it is being attacked by a serious disease. In fact, a diet high in fast food makes our immune cells more aggressive over time. This increases the chances of developing a serious illness. This effect lasts long after switching to a diet full of fruit and vegetables. Research has found that fast food causes the arteries to harden, increasing blood pressure and damaging the heart.

So next time you eat a meal, notice how many white or beige foods there are on your plate. Is your food colorful, full of fresh fruits and vegetables, or does it consist of junk? Are you eating burgers and fries all the time? If you are, you’re consuming a lot of saturated fats. There are two kinds of fat: saturated and unsaturated. A diet high in saturated fat is linked to many different illnesses, including obesity, heart attacks, high blood pressure and a weaker immune system.

In fact, what saturated fats do is they cause your immune system to attack the healthy cells in your body. If you eat a lot of junk food, you probably consume more calories than your body needs. This makes it likely that you are overweight, or even obese. Apart from the many other effects that being overweight brings, it turns out that obesity can affect our white blood cells. These cells fight infection, and excess body weight prevents these cells from multiplying and producing antibodies. This makes you more likely to catch infections.

If you eat a poor diet, you are also probably eating lots of sugar and salt too. Both of these have a negative impact on our immunity. A diet high in sugar, salt, and saturated fats can increase inflammation in the body, which has negative consequences. It also stops the immune system from being able to control infections. An unhealthy diet increases your risk of cancer, allergies, and auto-immune disease.

8. Too much caffeine

Are you one of those people who gets through the day by drinking copious quantities of caffeine? Well, it turns out that drinking a lot of coffee, tea or other caffeinated drinks is bad for your immune system. When you take in a lot of caffeine, your nervous system becomes stimulated. This increases the stress levels in your body. When your body is stressed, stress hormones are released.

Excessive caffeine stimulates your nervous system by increasing the stress level in the body. A high-stress level causes the release of stress hormones like cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone. When cortisol is released, your body starts to release stored up fats and sugars to prepare the body for exertion. This complex process is called the stress response.

This stress response is important for survival, but if it persists, it can cause serious health problems. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart problems and a suppressed immune system. Some of the symptoms of high cortisol levels include a puffy, flushed face, weight gain, skin problems like acne, muscle aches and pains, mood swings, increased anxiety, tiredness, and insomnia.

But you don’t have to give up your favorite cuppa Joe. You just have to limit your intake to two cups a day. Or the same amount of tea. Ditch the caffeinated sodas because they do you no good at all. In fact, a moderate amount of coffee is actually good for you. Around two cups of coffee, a day can reduce the risk of death from cirrhosis of the liver by 66%. Caffeine’s stimulating effect also leads to higher energy levels, better mood and improved brain function in some areas.

9. Not using sunblock

Most of us love a bit of sun, and our body actually needs it to produce vitamin D. This vitamin is vital to our bones, but also to our immune systems, and can help fight colds and flu. The problem is when you spend a lot of time in the sun without using sunscreen. This is when the sun becomes a danger to our immunity. Ultraviolet (UV) rays contained in sunlight can damage or kill certain cells that are close to the surface of the skin.

The skin, the largest organ in the body, is our first line of defense against chemical toxins and infections. UV light actually causes immunological changes in the body and can aggravate problems such as herpes or yeast infections. It can also cause cancer. UV light changes our DNA, which is where all our genetic information is stored. This can lead to abnormal cell growth associated with cancer. Skin cancer is very common, often only becoming visible years after repeated sun exposure. In the developing world, high levels of UV exposure might decrease the effectiveness of vaccinations.

The simplest way to avoid the damaging effects of sunlight on your immunity is to wear sunscreen. You should look for one that has a minimum of SPF 15, but preferably around SPF 50. Sunscreen should be applied all over in generous amounts. It should also be reapplied regularly, especially if you are swimming or sweating. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen in winter. Just because you don’t see much of the sun doesn’t mean it’s not damaging your skin.

And what about vitamin D? Some doctors recommend daily exposure to sunlight without sunblock for a maximum of 15 minutes. This will ensure that your body produces enough vitamin D for health. Do not expose your head, neck or extremities to the sun. Rather an exposure to one of the larger portions of your body such as your torso or your back. After your daily 15 minutes of exposure, apply sunblock for daily protection from the harmful effects of the sun. Children should be educated about the dangers of sun exposure from a young age and encouraged to always wear sunscreen.

10. You don’t get enough sleep

Sleep is life’s great healer. In fact, there is a direct link between the quality and quantity of sleep we get and our immune system. If you don’t get enough sleep, you become sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation weakens your immunity so that you become vulnerable to any pathogen or bug that comes along. Even short-term sleep deprivation can have a significant effect on how well your immune system functions.

If you lose a small amount of sleep, your immune system can be triggered to increase inflammation, the body’s enemy. Sleeping problems can even increase your risk of getting diseases such as certain cancers, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and arthritis. When we sleep, our body makes or releases certain substances that fight disease and infection. A lack of sleep deprives us of these chemicals, leading to vulnerability to pathogens.

If we do become ill from something like a cold or flu, lack of sleep can cause us to remain sick for longer. This is because the body doesn’t have the necessary chemicals for fighting off the invading pathogen. When we sleep, we go through four main stages of sleep. It is during the deepest and most relaxing stages of our sleep cycle that the immune system kicks in. Interrupted sleep or too little sleep prevents us from maintaining a healthy level of immunity.

To keep your immune system healthy, make sure you get adequate sleep. The amount of sleep we need depends partly on age. For adults, the recommended period is 7 or 8 hours. Keep to a consistent routine every night. To bolster your immunity, go to bed and get up at around the same time every day. Don’t overdo it, though. Sleeping too much can put you at higher risk for some diseases.

11. You are inactive

If you lead an inactive life, you are endangering your immunity. One way in which physical activity can help your immunity is that during exertion, bacteria and viruses are flushed out of the lungs and airways. This might lead to fewer illnesses such as colds and flu. Also, when you exercise, your body temperature rises, preventing some bacteria from multiplying.

Moderate exercise increases our heart rate, blood pressure and rate of breathing. This releases hormones into the bloodstream, suppressing certain inflammatory responses. Too much inflammation can lead to various autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Exercise causes antibodies and white blood cells to circulate more quickly, enabling quicker detection of infection.

Exercise also slows down how quickly stress hormones are released into the body, protecting you from infections. Regular exercise is, in fact, good for the entire body. It can control high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It reduces stress levels and anxiety, and slows down the aging process. In fact, regular moderate exercise can add up to 10 years to your life!

But it turns out that too much exercise is also bad for our immunity. Research found that elite athletes who exercise a lot got sick far more than those who exercised moderately. They were even more vulnerable to illness than sedentary couch potatoes! The answer seems to be moderate amounts of exercise such as a daily 30-minute walk or a gym workout every second day.

12. You travel frequently

Do you travel a lot? If so, you come into contact with lots of people. Some of them are carrying infections that you could catch. Traveling puts your body under quite a lot of stress. When you travel, you often experience changes in air pressure, temperature, and climate. You will probably lose sleep, and suffer from the stresses and strains of planning your schedule and being on time. In fact, studies show that traveling, especially by airplane, can weaken your immune system.

Insufficient sleep can negatively affect your immunity. If you travel at night or take red-eye flights, you’re probably not getting enough uninterrupted sleep. This will compromise your immune system. Being awake at night can prevent the body from producing T-cells, which are immune system boosters. This will make you more susceptible to illnesses.

If you experience changes in temperature or climate, your immunity will be affected. When you fly, you experience quick air pressure changes. This puts a strain on oxygen levels and blood flow. The air inside airplanes is also usually a lot less humid than the air outside. This can often lead to dehydration. And as we saw above, insufficient hydration can compromise the immune system.

All the physical and emotional stress of traveling can affect your health. From packing your suitcases to getting to the airport or station on time, all of these factors can negatively affect your immune system. Always follow healthy plane habits to make flying less stressful. Prepare yourself by drinking water, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine. Clean highly-contaminated areas such as tray tables with disinfectant wipes, and keep your hands clean.

13. You take a lot of antibiotics

Do you reach for the antibiotics every time you get a sniffle? If so, you might be damaging your immune system. Antibiotics are one of the greatest human inventions in the history of medicine. They have saved literally millions of lives as powerful partners in the body’s fight against the disease. However, if used incorrectly, antibiotics can cause more harm than good.

Research shows that some people taking antibiotics had reduced levels of the hormones that carry messages for the immune system. This compromised the people’s immunity, leaving them open to infections and disease. If you take a lot of antibiotics, you might develop resistant bacteria. These resistant bacteria are not affected by antibiotics, making them useless in treating the infection.

To prevent your immune system from being compromised by antibiotics, only ever take them if you really need them. Many people think they can stop taking them when they feel better. This is a serious mistake. When you are prescribed a course of antibiotics, you should take every single tablet or capsule as instructed by your doctor. If you don’t, you stand the chance of developing resistant bacteria, or superbugs. These superbugs are extremely difficult to treat, and could even cause the outbreak of an epidemic.

Antibiotics only kill bacteria, not viruses, including cold and flu viruses. If a doctor prescribes antibiotics for a viral infection, the ‘good’ bacteria that naturally occur in your body will be killed. This might lead to an overgrowth of other microbes such as yeasts and fungi. Thrush is a common outcome of antibiotic treatment. Should your doctor prescribe antibiotics, ask them to give you something to prevent problems such as thrush.

14. You are a meat eater

Many millions of people across the world include meat as a staple part of their diet. Some people cannot imagine living without red meat, but the truth is that vegetables, seeds, nuts and whole grains provide better nutrition than meat. They are also usually free of additives, antibiotics, hormones and other harmful substances often found in meat. But what about our immunity? Does meat affect it?

Research has shown that eating red meat can trigger a reaction that can weaken our immunity. Red meat contains a particular natural sugar that our bodies are unable to digest. This particular sugar is believed to cause other health problems such as a higher risk of certain types of cancer. But arguably the most dangerous type of meat to eat is processed meat. This includes hot dogs, bacon, bologna, and others.

In fact, scientists have discovered that people who eat a great deal of processed meat risk dying early by a staggering 44%. Part of the problem is the fact that processed meats usually contain a large amount of saturated fat or cholesterol, giving rise to heart disease. It also contains nitrates that cause the formation of cancer-causing agents called carcinogens. Nitrates have been linked to both stomach and colorectal cancer.

Researchers have found that processed meats contain additives that weaken our immunity to toxins, possibly increasing the risk of developing autoimmune diseases. It is recommended that you cut processed meats from your diet. If you simply cannot do that, limit your intake to an ounce or less per day. Also, reduce your red meat intake as much as possible. Although meat does contain nutrients, you can meet your nutritional needs quite easily on a diet rich in legumes, vegetables, and grains.

15. You suffer from grief or loneliness

It might come as a surprise that experiencing grief and/or loneliness can actually make you physically sick. If you have lost a loved one, you have to go through the pain of living without them You might be lonely and isolated. The truth is that the chronic stress of grief has a major impact on the body. In fact, prolonged grief can put you at risk of several mental and physical health complications.

If you are in the acute stages of grief, your emotions engage the body’s fight-or-flight response. This is a state of preparedness for fighting an enemy or fleeing. It’s like an alarm has gone off in your body. The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released, and your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate go up. Cortisol also alters the way in which our immune system functions. The problem is when you are constantly in this stressed state.

In chronic stress situations such as prolonged grief, these stress hormones can cause disruptions to most of the body’s processes. This puts your health at risk, and can actually shorten your lifespan. Prolonged grief can lead to digestive problems, headaches and migraines, anxiety, depression, heart disease, stroke, weight gain, memory and concentration problems, and immune system dysfunction. The latter can leave you vulnerable to all sorts of viruses and bacteria doing the rounds.

Even loneliness without grief can cause major damage to your health. The pain of loneliness also activates the fight-or-flight response. Lonely people have been found to have immune systems that work differently. Their white blood cells increase inflammation and are less effective at fighting viruses. Chronic loneliness leads to chronic inflammation. This has been linked to cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and viral infections.