Don’t Mess with Your Immune System
Ronit Mor, ND
The immune system is made up of many different kinds of cells that protect the body from germs, viruses and other invaders. These cells need to co-exist in a certain balance for good health to be maintained. Many factors, including diet, lifestyle, and exercise can tip this balance, creating immune cells that can harm, rather than protect, our bodies.
Here are a few habits that may leave you vulnerable to disease:
You’re ALWAYS stressed
Research shows that prolonged stress can contribute to the development of major chronic conditions, such as heart disease, depression and obesity. Some studies have even suggested that unhealthy chronic stress management, such as overeating “comfort” foods, has contributed to the growing obesity epidemic.
When faced with periods of chronic stress, the body’s immune system function is lowered, and the digestive, excretory, and reproductive systems no longer function the way they should. In a state of distress, the cells of the immune system (and other body systems) are unable to respond normally and produce levels of inflammation which increase the risk of further health issues.
Scientists have shown that practices, such as mindfulness, meditation and prayer, lower heart rates, blood pressure and oxygen consumption, and they alleviate the symptoms associated with a vast array of conditions, including hypertension, arthritis, insomnia, depression, infertility, cancer, anxiety, even aging.
You don’t get enough sleep
Prolonged and severe sleep deprivation influences the way our body fights off an illness. Even a modest loss of sleep will produces a reduction of natural immune responses and T cell cytokine production.
You need quality, restful sleep. It’s good for your outlook, it’s physically beneficial, and your immune system needs it, too.
If you’re not getting the right sleep try incorporating the following sleep habits:
You take antibiotics at the first sign of a sore throat
Antibiotics disrupt the dialogue between your immune system and the bacteria—good and bad—in your body. Your body might kick a disease faster while you’re taking the medication, but once your prescription is over, your immune system will be even more vulnerable.
Scientists have long known that overuse of antibiotics can do more harm than good. Two recent international studies have shed further light on some of the harmful side effects associated with antibiotics – including damage to the immune system, and memory problems caused by a lack of growth in new brain cells. Both studies found that the way antibiotics kill off microbes in the gut can cause health issues, due to the way the delicate chemical mixes in our bodies can be thrown out of balance by the medication.
Research shows that antibiotics lead to a reduction in the variety of microbes in the gut which, in turn, interferes with the immune system's ability to fight off disease. "I think the take-home is that this is another important reason not to use antibiotics unless they are clearly needed," said researcher Bill Petri, MD, PhD, the chief of UVA's Division of Infectious Diseases. "Unwise use of antibiotics not only increases the risk of multi-drug resistant bacteria and the risk of C. difficile infection but also impairs white blood cell function."
The findings serve as a reminder that while antibiotics can be powerful allies for the human body in the fight against disease, they can also do more harm than good if used in the wrong situations (one of many reasons you should always follow the advice of your doctor).
You exercise too little or… too much
We’re all aware that an active lifestyle is good for us. Getting an adequate amount of exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body. Exercise builds muscle, increases insulin sensitivity, improves balance and coordination… the benefits are almost endless.
Did you know that lack of exercise could make you sicker longer? Upper respiratory tract infections lasted 43 percent longer in volunteers who worked out once a week or less than in those who did aerobic exercises five or more times a week, according to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The sedentary participants also had more severe symptoms.
Unfortunately, the saying “more is less” applies to physical activity too – there’s a point when benefit stops and overtraining sets in, and you can actually improve your health by doing less of it. This review gets a little more specific about what kind of exercise produces the immune-suppressant response.
Moderate exercise is significantly better for you than no exercise at all. Simple, everyday activities, such as cleaning the house, gardening, and even going for a walk outside, fall into this category. Making time for exercise shouldn’t be something you dread or view as an inconvenience. Instead, find activities that revolve around your personal interests or help check off something on your to-do list.
Scientists have known for some time that excess body fat can turn the body's defense system against you, leading to heart and other diseases.
Excess body fat, particularly abdominal fat, triggers the production of so-called "pro-inflammatory" immune cells, which circulate in the blood and promote inflammation in our bodies. Such chronic inflammation has been linked with coronary artery disease and other health problems.
At times, the difference between what you weigh and what you want to weigh can seem insurmountable. You’re not alone in your frustration.
Australian researchers found that a weight loss of just 13 pounds (6 kilograms) was enough to bring the levels of pro-inflammatory cells down to that found in lean people.
Did you know: losing just 10 pounds may lower your cholesterol by more than 10%, decrease your blood pressure, result in a greater than 50% risk reduction for heart attacks, reduce your chance of getting diabetes by 60%, reduce your risk for dementia, reduce your risk for developing sleep apnea, result in as much as a 50% decrease in your odds of developing osteoarthritis, significantly reduce the levels of specific carcinogenic hormones in your body, and improve your sex life.
So, start by aiming low— just 10 pounds of weight loss! You may achieve this relatively quickly by cutting your daily intake of simple carbs and gluten-containing grains and boosting your daily intake of fresh vegetables and fruits.
You feel lonely
The serious dangers of loneliness have long been known. According to new research published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, loneliness puts your body into fight or flight mode and triggers physiological responses that can ultimately make us sick.
The five-year study found that when people felt lonely, the hormone norepinephrine was higher. During crises, norepinephrine boosts production of the white blood cells that fight wounds. But in the process, it shuts down the virus-fighting part of your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to disease.
If you’re feeling down, don’t wallow alone on the couch—ask a friend out for coffee or call a loved one for some support. Or, find help right at home in the form of a wet nose or a wagging tail...
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