8 Things That Can Weaken Your Immune System
A healthy immune system is crucial for your body’s ability to ward off viruses, bad bacteria, parasites, and other infections. When your immune system is compromised, you are more susceptible to getting sick.
Immune health has been a hot topic ever since the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, but how many of us are taking necessary measures to protect our immune systems at all costs?
Our own behaviors and choices have a definite impact on our health, and those choices can wreak some serious havoc on our immune systems.
Rather than wait before it’s too late to strengthen your immunity, you can take matters into your own hands with preventative care.
Here are eight immune-compromising things you’ll want to avoid–starting now.
1. Consuming Excessive Amounts of Sugar
Sugar isn’t always so sweet once it reaches your immune system.
There’s nothing wrong with adding a little sugar to your tank. It’s perfectly fine to satisfy your sweet tooth when the cravings come, just as long as the added sugar doesn’t supersede more than 10% of your daily energy intake (according to the WHO). Anything more than could put you in a sugar coma that also jeopardizes your immune system.
People in the blue zones eat sugar intentionally, not by habit or accident. They consume about the same amount of naturally occurring sugars as North Americans do, but only about a fifth as much added sugar—no more than seven teaspoons of sugar a day. It’s hard to avoid sugar. It occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, and even milk. But that’s not the problem.
Between 1970 and 2000, the amount of added sugar in the American food supply rose by 25 percent. This adds up to about 22 teaspoons of added sugar each of us consumes daily—insidious, hidden sugars mixed into soda, yogurt, and sauces. Too much sugar in our diet also spikes insulin levels, which can lead to diabetes and lower fertility, make you fat, and even shorten your life.
When you go overboard with sugar, it repels cells in your immune system that are meant to attack bad bacteria, allowing viruses to spread more freely.When you go overboard with sugar, it repels cells in your immune system that are meant to attack bad bacteria, allowing viruses to spread more freely. Click To Tweet
Like all food that may taste good, but isn’t necessarily good for you, moderation is key. Have some sugar in your tea or coffee. Eat the sweet treat on a celebratory day. Just don’t overdo it.
2. Not Getting Proper Rest
It’s no secret that there are many benefits to getting a good night’s sleep; from increased energy to sharper brainpower. You want to know what else it’s good for? Keeping your immune system safe and sound.
Studies show that proper rest energizes your body’s T-cells to fight off infections.Studies show that proper rest energizes your body’s T-cells to fight off infections. Click To Tweet
T-cells are immune cells that go to war against virus-infected cells known as intracellular pathogens. Examples of virus-infected cells include HIV, cancer cells, and the flu. Upon detection of virus-infected cells in the body, your T-cells will automatically go into attack mode by activating their integrins–a sticky protein and type of adhesion molecule. Integrins allow your T-cells to latch onto and kill the infected cells.
The stickiness of integrins are what help your T-cells get in contact with the infected cells. Unfortunately, the stickiness can be thwarted by high levels of adrenaline, noradrenaline, or prostaglandins. However, the levels of all three are lowered while sleeping, so the stickiness grows stronger during times of rest. Thus, your T-cells can latch on to virally-infected cells more easily when you’re catching Zzzs.
Good sleep is key to avoiding a weakened immune system. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that if you want to be well-rested every waking day, seven hours of sleep is the magic number for adults. Centenarians in the blue zones typically sleep 7-9 hours every night as well.Good sleep is key to avoiding a weakened immune system. Click To Tweet
Minor adjustments to your nightly routine can help you sleep better at night, including:
- Cutting screen time
- Creating a bedtime routine to wind down
- Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule
3. Consuming Caffeine Late in the Day
Going caffeine crazy at night, or even later in the afternoon, can seriously sabotage your sleep–and you now know that good rest is necessary for stronger immunity.
On the flip side, studies show that certain caffeinated drinks (like tea and coffee) have anti-inflammatory properties. Reduced inflammation also benefits the health of your immune system. It’s a double-edged sword in this sense.
A healthy dose of caffeine can be good for you due to its anti-inflammatory benefits–just, during the day. Nightly caffeine consumption, however, will undoubtedly mess up your sleeping schedule. So you might want to refrain from having late-night coffee breaks from here on out. Save that for morning or early afternoon pick-me-ups.
If you must have an evening beverage before bed, replace coffee or caffeinated tea with drinks that’ll help you wind down–like hot water with lemon and ginger or non-caffeinated herbal tea.
Many herbal teas double as natural sleep remedies, including:
- Chamomile Tea
- Maya Nut and Cinnamon Tea
- Passionflower Tea
- Lippia Alba and Hibiscus Tea
- Magnolia Tea
- Lavender Tea
Tea is consumed regularly in the blue zones and is even thought to be healthier than water.Tea is consumed regularly in the blue zones and is even thought to be healthier than water. Click To Tweet
4. Eating a Low-Fiber Diet
In the way that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, other fiber-rich foods can help protect you from a number of health issues–including a weakened immune system.
Fiber provides nourishment to the billions of “good” bacteria in our guts responsible for keeping our immune systems in great health. Considering that healthy bacteria respond well to fiber, it indirectly has a positive effect on our immune systems.
Do you want to know why centenarians in the blue zones are the longest-lived people in the world? They consume foods that are local and in season.
There are a variety of local fiber-rich foods that are readily available at different times of the year, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
Adding more fiber to your daily diet will be easy if you already eat a lot of plant foods like beans and legumes, whole grains, fruit, and vegetables (there is no fiber in meat, poultry, or dairy products).
Ninety-five percent of Americans do not eat enough fiber. Experts say that women should consume a minimum of 21 to 25 grams of fiber each day, while men should consume 30 to 38 grams per day.
5. Stressing Yourself Out
Stress causes the body to release a surge of adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones reduce your levels of the following white blood cells: phagocytes and lymphocytes. Having a deficiency of both can make it difficult for the body to fight off viral and bacterial antigens.
To prevent this from happening, actively learn some stress management techniques and try to avoid high-stress trigger situations if you can. Don’t ever feel guilty for protecting your energy when you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s okay to take a step back from daily responsibilities to prioritize your well-being–even if it only takes a few minutes out of your day. That’s self-care for you.Don’t ever feel guilty for protecting your energy when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Click To Tweet
Known as the best kind of care there is, self-care plays a tremendous role in maintaining healthy stress levels. Practice it on a daily basis, and you’ll see a positive difference in your ability to manage stress healthily.
Note: Self-care is NOT selfish–it’s necessary. We must put an end to the limiting belief about something so crucial to our mental, emotional, and physical health.
If you have a hard time putting yourself first, start with smaller gestures. Centenarians in the blue zones take time each day to downshift. Sardinians have happy hour with friends and neighbors, Ikarians take daily naps, and in Loma Linda, they celebrate the Sabbath with time in nature to connect with friends and family and disconnect from the stress of daily life. Acts of self-care can be as simple as meditating in the mornings or evenings, canceling an engagement for “you” time, or taking walks in nature.
6. Drinking Too Much
Excessive alcohol consumption is another big no-no for your immune system.
In your gut, there are healthy bacteria and unhealthy bacteria. Getting “buzzed” on a regular basis can harm your gut microbiome that houses billions of healthy bacteria needed to fight off infections in your immune system.Getting buzzed on a regular basis can harm your gut microbiome that houses billions of healthy bacteria needed to fight off infections in your immune system. Click To Tweet
When a surge of alcohol enters your system, it throws off the balance of the two bacterial types. It also kills off healthy bacteria in the process, resulting in the overgrowth of bad bacteria. Thus, excessive alcohol consumption increases the level of bad bacteria that enters your bloodstream, which often leads to an inflamed liver. Inflammation in your liver further makes it harder for the liver to cleanse environmental toxins from the body–that includes virally-infected antigens.
In some blue zones, having a glass of wine each day is fairly common. Having a “cold one” or an evening glass of wine won’t hurt you (and enjoyed in moderation with a friend can be beneficial), but you might want to step away from the liquor after that to avoid overconsumption.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests that women should limit their drinking to one glass per day, while men should limit theirs to two glasses per day.
7. Not Getting Enough Exercise
Failure to get moving every day can contribute to a poor immune response.Failure to get moving every day can contribute to a poor immune response. Click To Tweet
Working out regularly not only boosts your energy. It can also boost your immunity. Physical fitness pumps up the number of antibodies and white blood cells in your body, which are equally necessary for the early detection of infections and for fighting them off.
Raising body temperatures while exercising can also kill infections by deterring the growth of bad bacteria. Not to mention, exercise can send stress hormones running, as active movement can slow adrenaline and cortisol from releasing into your body.
As you can see, hitting the gym does the body good in more ways than one. All of these things combined equip the body to defend itself from viral illnesses even more.
Try squeezing in time to get some daily movement in. At Blue Zones, we recommend more natural movement by way of walking your dog, going to the market on foot, or biking to work.
Per the CDC: 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of intense physical activity, and two strength-training sessions a week are typically ideal for adults. If you can aim for three strength-training sessions, that’s even better.
Studies show that one in two Americans feel isolated or alone. Loneliness, unfortunately, can indirectly weaken your immune system due to the stress it triggers.Loneliness, unfortunately, can indirectly weaken your immune system due to the stress it triggers. Click To Tweet
The way to avoid loneliness? Getting social. Individuals in the blue zones value social connections with others. If you have no one close to you right now, sign up for a free weekly activity group in your community or a weekly volunteering shift in your neighborhood. By attending events and volunteering you’ll find individuals who share your values and interests. You may not feel 100% comfortable getting out there to mingle with all that’s going on in the world right now—getting together with even one or two friends for an occasional night in could satisfy your need for social contact. Or safely connect via FaceTime or Zoom.
Johnaé De Felicis is a writer and wellness junkie from California. Her work appears in Healthline, among others, and she covers wellness topics from mental health to natural living.