With the Coronavirus outbreak, we are again reminded of how important it is to have a strong and healthy immune system (which of course does not exclude the safety measures you should take as recommended by WHO and your local authorities).
While our immune system can’t protect us from every germ and virus, there are steps we can take to strengthen it. The basics—like getting enough sleep and maintaining a healthy diet—are key, but there are some unexpected things that can also have a major impact.
1. Red Meat
Red meat can trigger a dangerous reaction that can weaken the immune system. The issue comes from a natural sugar in red meat that our bodies can’t digest. The sugar is believed to cause a host of other health concerns — a higher risk of cancer being one of those.
2. Fried Foods
In addition to being full of fats that could increase your “bad” cholesterol, fried foods can also trigger inflammation, leading to reduced immunity. Cutting back on fried foods — or better yet, getting rid of them altogether — could help restore the body’s natural defenses. Plus, fried foods accumulate acrylamide — a dangerous carcinogen.
If you’re drinking soda — it really doesn’t matter what it’s sweetened with — you’re likely harming your immune system. Even diet soda is a bad option. Because soda has no beneficial nutrients, drinkers are less likely to get enough vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium — all necessary for an optimum immune system. And, if that wasn’t enough, phosphoric acid (found in sodas) can also deplete calcium and magnesium in the body.
4. Sugary Snacks
Some sugars — refined ones are the absolute worst — can actually suppress the immune system. Refined sugar actually targets the cells that attack bacteria. And the effect can even last for hours after you eat something sugary.
5. Processed Foods
One of the most dangerous foods to immune health, in my opinion, is processed foods. How come? Because there are many food companies out there who are using the terms “natural” to describe their product, even though their foods may have a hefty amount of refined carbohydrates, sugar, and hidden flavorings. Even organic processed foods, like cereal and bread, can contain immune-suppressing sugar. Processed foods are basically anything that comes in a package, contains more than one ingredient, and has been cooked and modified mechanically. Eating processed foods can lead to chronic irritation in the body. The toxins of a modern diet completely outweigh the possible nutritional gains. All this is leading us to weaker immune systems, higher rate of illnesses and diseases, and all-around poor health.
Daniel Naysan, DDS, a dentist in Beverly Hills, says there’s a significant connection between oral health and your immune system. “Risk factors such as periodontal disease, decay, [and] oral infections elicit the white blood cells, which are the defense system to our immune system [and] are activated to help fight these oral diseases,” Naysan explains. If these oral infections aren’t treated, your immune system may become compromised and weaken over time.
7. Too much exercise
It’s no surprise that not getting enough exercise can weaken your immune system—but Mitchell says over-exercising can also be harmful. “Too much exercise increases Interleukin-6 (IL-6)” and depresses immune system function, he explains.
While a lot of us may be getting too little exercise during self-quarantine, it may not be uncommon to overload yourself with those Youtube home workouts, cleaning your house, etc. By no means overdo it and try to relax – striking a balance now is crucial!
A 2015 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that “perceived social isolation” (loneliness) is linked to immune system changes. Steve Cole, the study’s lead author, observed that when participants felt lonely, they had significantly higher levels of the hormone norepinephrine in their blood. When a person is in a life-threatening situation, norepinephrine courses through the blood and shuts down immune system functions, such as viral defenses. Meanwhile, the production of white blood cells called monocytes increases.
“It’s this surge in these pro-inflammatory white blood cells that are highly adapted to defend against wounds, but at the expense of our defenses against viral diseases that come from close social contact with other people,” Cole explained.
What to do: If you have to self-isolate alone during the Coronavirus outbreak, try to stay in close touch with friends and relatives over the phone and the internet – try to make video calls with your friends and loved ones a priority! By all means join online support groups, and why not learn a new language, craft, or any new skill by joining online group classes and live sessions? This will certainly help to ease your feelings of being lonely and isolated and help you feel even more connected to others than before!
9. Bottling up emotions
According to a 2018 study published by Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, negative moods can affect immune response functions and increase the risk of exacerbated inflammation. That same year, researchers at Penn State found that teenagers who suppressed negative emotions were more likely to “produce more pro-inflammatory cytokines, molecules that signal to other cells that there is a threat present and that the body’s immune system needs to kick into gear.” A high level of cytokines suggests that the immune system isn’t functioning the way it should be.
Drinking has a negative effect on the immune system, particularly when it’s in excess. “Alcohol use may weaken the immune system by changing the balance of normal microorganisms that live in a healthy body, leading to increased inflammation,” says Chirag Shah, MD, co-founder of Push Health.
Additionally, Shah says that alcohol use may impair specific cells in the immune system, including macrophages and monocytes, and “reduce the body’s capacity to reduce the normal inflammatory response when it needs to be turned off.”
What to do: Try not to drown your feelings of stress and isolation in alcohol during these troublesome times! Rather, find another source of calm and happiness through meditation, moderate exercise, and joining online support groups, gatherings, and classes!
11. Nicotine use
It’s no secret that nicotine use can wreak havoc on your respiratory system, but research published in 2009 by Acta Pharmacologica Sinica found that it can also harm your immune system. According to the study, nicotine use affects both branches of the immune system and “produces an altered immune response that is characterized by a decrease in inflammation, a decreased antibody response, and a reduction in T cell-receptor-mediated signaling.”
Certain medications can negatively affect your immune system. Mitchell notes that acid-blocking heartburn medications like Prilosec and Nexium decrease stomach acid and allow yeast and bacteria to overgrow, which in turn lowers immunity.
Nance says corticosteroid medications also impact the immune system. Many people take some form of oral steroids to treat conditions like asthma, arthritis, and autoimmune disease. “Steroids decrease inflammation by reducing the chemical activity of the body’s immune system,” Nance explains. “Glucocorticoids at high concentrations inhibit the production of B Cells and T Cells, the main components of the body’s immune system.”
What to do: Ask your doctor about the possible effects of any medications you might be taking to your immune system, and whether they can make some changes in order to better support your body and immune health during this time.
Mitchell says that age also has a bearing on your immune system. “Very young infants are more prone to infections because their antibodies haven’t fully developed, and the elderly have decreased immunity because their antibodies have waned,” he explains.
Exposure to bacteria outside the home—or the lack thereof—also affects your immune system. “Growing up on a farm where the person is exposed to wider ranges of bacteria is healthier for the immune system than growing up in an urban environment,” says Dean C. Mitchell, MD, clinical assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The body needs the proper amount of vitamins, minerals, calories and protein for cells to grow and work properly. Without these, the immune system can grow weak and be less able to find and destroy germs. Whether your diet is poor because of food choices, food availability or even poor digestion, your immune system suffers. Good nutrition should include lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low fat milks. A diet that is healthy for the immune system should avoid excessive consumption of refined sugars and highly processed foods containing preservatives, pesticides and chemical additives.
Natural Immune System Support
If you want a healthy immune system, in addition to getting rid of these foods & external factors, you could also try eating some that boost your immunity instead. Download The Complete Vegan Recipe Solution, featuring 145 delicious vegan recipes, scientifically designed to improve your health and strengthen your immune system.
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