15 Ways You Might Be Damaging Your Immune System

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… Simi - March 11, 2018

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. 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 taken 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 the 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.