Your immune system is the combination of defenses in your body that fight against infection and other disease. In other words, it is what makes your body resilient.
As a result, boosting your immune system is key to staying healthy and keeping your body functioning in top shape.
Here are a few tips to help you do just that – but first, let’s take a look at what the immune system is and how it works.
What Is The Immune System
Simply put, your immune system is your body’s natural defense system.
More precisely, it is a complex network of cells, tissues, organs, proteins, and all the additional substances in your body that fight against infection and other diseases.
Specifically, this includes white blood cells, organs, and tissues of the lymph system such as lymph nodes, lymph vessels, the spleen, tonsils, thymus, and bone marrow.
There are two main parts to your body’s immune system:
- The innate system, which is inherited and active from the time you are born.
- The adaptive system, which is developed as you are exposed to different pathogens.
These two parts work together and take on different roles to keep your body healthy.
Innate Immune System
The innate or non-specific immune system is active from the time you are born.
It acts as the body’s first line of defense against germs entering your body and consists of your skin, mucous membranes, and immune cells and proteins. It relies on your body’s ability to recognize unknown features of pathogens.
As a result, it responds to all foreign substances that enter your body the same way. Unfortunately, this gives it some limitations.
If the innate immune system cannot neutralize a threat, it triggers specific adaptive responses, and the adaptive system takes over.
Adaptive Immune System
The adaptive or acquired immune system is what you develop through exposure to different germs.
It is the more sophisticated part of your immune responses and consists of T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, and the antibodies found in your blood and other bodily fluids.
Unlike the innate, the adaptive immune response is pathogen-specific.
In other words, it responds differently and produces antibodies specific to each threat it encounters. Additionally, after it faces a threat, it has an immunological memory that allows it to remember and respond to the same threat more efficiently in the future.
This process is how immunity develops. Initially, a pathogen enters your body, either naturally or through vaccination. This initial exposure trains your immune responses to deal with the threat so that down the road, subsequent infections are either mild or not noticed at all!
What Is A Compromised Immune System?
A compromised immune system, also referred to as immunocompromised or immunodeficiency, is just a way of saying things are not functioning correctly. In other words, your body’s natural defenses are weaker than expected.
Primary immunodeficiency is when you are born with a weak immune system or some underlying genetic cause. There are hundreds of primary immune deficiency diseases. Some examples include Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID), and Bruton agammaglobulinemia.
Secondary immunodeficiency is when extrinsic factors such as drugs, disease, or environmental conditions cause your body’s defenses to function at less than 100%. These immunodeficiencies are much more common than primary immunodeficiencies. While AIDS is the most well-known secondary immunodeficiency, the most common cause worldwide is malnutrition, which affects both our innate and adaptive immune systems.
Do Antibiotics Weaken Your Immune System?
Some research suggests that antibiotics could weaken the immune system.
Additionally, antibiotic resistance, which occurs when germs mutate and develop the ability to defeat antibiotics, is one of the biggest threats to public health, according to the CDC. In fact, over 35,000 people die in the United States each year due to antibiotic-resistant infections.
Antibiotics treat certain infections caused by bacteria. However, estimates say roughly 1/3rd of antibiotics prescribed in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms are unnecessary.
Always take antibiotics exactly as your doctor prescribes them, and be sure to ask if you have any questions.
Does Alcohol Lower Your Immune System?
Evidence has long suggested that alcohol weakens your immune system through both direct and indirect influences.
For example, alcohol directly alters the number of microbes in our gut that affect the immune system’s function. Additionally, it damages epithelial cells and T cells, which play a role in your innate and adaptive immune systems.
Indirectly, alcohol can affect sleep quality and duration, which can disrupt proper functioning. Remember to always drink in moderation and talk with a trusted healthcare provider if you have any questions.
Immune System Booster Tips
Boosting or strengthening your immune system is about supporting the natural systems already functioning in your body.
Here are a few tips to keep your body’s natural defenses working in top shape!
1. Get Enough Sleep
Your immune system and sleep are closely related.
In fact, research has found that during sleep certain components of the innate and adaptive systems are stimulated and put into overdrive. Although the exact mechanism of this is still uncertain, it is clear that improved sleep habits are vital to proper functioning.
It is recommended that you get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
2. Get The Right Amount of Exercise
Getting the right amount of exercise is key to a well-functioning immune system.
Engaging in moderate exercise has been shown to enhance vaccination response, increase T-cells and boost the function of natural killer cells. However, it is important not to overdo it. Prolonged periods of intense exercise can have the opposite effect.
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity for 5 days each week. This can be anything from walking around your neighborhood, going to the gym, and everything in between.
3. Take Time To Relax
While a little bit of stress can help us grow, prolonged periods of stress can suppress and deregulate both our innate and adaptive immune systems.
In fact, long-term stress can induce low-grade chronic inflammation and suppress the number and function of your immunoprotective cells. Furthermore, it may even increase susceptibility to some types of cancer.
Make sure to take your mental health seriously. Listen to your body when you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed and take time to relax before your body forces you to.
4. Incorporate Fruits and Vegetables Into Your Diet
Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet is a great way to strengthen your immune system.
This is because fruits and vegetables provide an abundance of nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E that help reduce oxidative stress and promote immune health. This can also indirectly affect healthy immune function by increasing energy levels and reducing stress.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that you make one-half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
Immune System Booster Foods (Bonus Tip)
Struggling to figure out which foods are best to strengthen your immune system?
Here are 8 foods loaded with nutrients and antioxidative properties to help you get started.
- Spinach (Vitamin C and Beta Carotene)
- Almonds (Vitamin E)
- Oysters (Zinc and Selenium)
- Broccoli (Vitamin C and Beta Carotene)
- Garlic (Allicin)
- Carrots (Vitamin A and Beta Carotene)
- Edamame (Folate)
- Salmon (Vitamin D)
All of these foods contain an abundance of nutrients and minerals aside from those listed. Try to eat a healthy mixture of these and mix in other foods high in Vitamins A through E.
Immune System Booster Vitamins (Bonus Tip)
Taking vitamins each day can help regulate and strengthen your immune system. This is especially true if you struggle to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Here are the 5 immune system booster vitamins you should take if you are having trouble mixing the right balance of foods into your diet.
- Vitamin C – Supports various cellular functions in innate & adaptive systems
- Vitamin A – Promoting/regulatory roles in both innate & adaptive systems
- B Complex – Variety of roles related to immune function
- Vitamin E – Modulation of immune function
- Vitamin D – Modulation of immune function
All of these vitamins are easily found at your local grocery store or online.
Signs of A Strong Immune System
Ultimately, the best sign of a strong immune system is the frequency and duration of sickness. In other words, how often do you get sick, and how long does it take you to recover.
If you are sick frequently or find that you have trouble getting over a sickness, just remember:
- Get Enough Sleep
- Get the Right Amount of Exercise
- Take Time to Relax
- Incorporate Fruits and Vegetables Into Your Diet