Reasons for a Weakened Immune System

Reasons for a Weakened Immune System

Flip through any health magazine and you’re bound to notice numerous ads claiming you can boost, enhance, increase, stimulate, strengthen, and activate immune function with clinically proven, innovative, cutting-edge technology, and revolutionary supplements, or herbs. The primary question we should really be asking is: “What are the reasons for a weakened immune system?” Since recovering immunity is the basis of real healing, it’s important that we first change negative habits that decrease immunity. 

The following 10 factors negatively influence our immune function:

1. Exposure to Oxidants (aka: Free Radicals)

Oxidation, the formation of highly reactive oxygen molecules, also known as free radicals, can cause our own molecules to break up and lose electrons. It is their breaking up that causes the beginning of body cell and tissue decay. When this happens scar tissue can form, which eventually replaces the functional tissue of different organs. If this occurs in the arteries, hardened plaques appear to attach themselves to the artery wall (atherosclerosis). This condition usually accelerates to create a potential heart attack or stroke; if it occurs in the brain, conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s can progress.

The other reaction the free radicals can produce is cell mutation, the basis of cancer development. Exposure to oxidants in our environment seems to be everywhere you look: cigarette smoke, chemical pollutants, industrial pollutants, sunlight exposure, ultra-violet rays, dietary fats and food chemicals. They get absorbed into our bodies through air, food and water. Consciously reducing your exposure to these irritants, keeps immunity from being burdened. 

2. Lack of Sleep/Rest

Sleep, like oxygen, is highly underrated. It is taken for granted and typically appears last on our priorities list. The growing list of disorders related to sleep and immune dysfunction is making us redefine the important of Ben Frank’s famed adage: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes one healthy, wealthy and wise.” 

  • Obesity: A lack of sleep, particularly in the young, inhibits growth hormone, which speeds up the fat-gaining process. Some research shows a lack of sleep lowers the hormone, testosterone. This can increase fat gaining as well as muscle loss.
  • Sweet Cravings: Increased carbohydrate cravings happen more frequently in the sleep deprived since it negatively affects a human hormone called Leptin. This hormone is responsible for signaling the body that it’s full after eating. Check this out for helpful hints on knocking sugar out of your life!
  • Breast Cancer: Research at the University of Connecticut indicates that there is a direct connection between breast cancer and hormone cycles disrupted by late-night light. Melatonin, primarily secreted at night, triggers a reduction in the body’s production of estrogen, which is a good thing, but light is known to interfere with melatonin release, since it’s secreted in response to a lack of light. This allows estrogen levels to rise. Estrogen is known to promote the growth of breast cancers.
  • Depression & Irritability: Additional research has shown that a lack of sleep causes depletion in the brain neurotransmitters that help regulate mood. As a result, sleep deprived people have a “shorter fuse” and tend to get depressed more easily.
  • Weakened Immunity: Medical research shows that sleep deprivation negatively affects human white blood cell count, which can impair the body’s ability to fight infection and disease.

3. Chronic Emotional Stress

Let the stress beginChronic stress creates a depressed immune function, resulting in a whole list of awful stuff, from conditions such as bacterial or viral disorders, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, to MS, arthritis and a host of others. The instant a person perceives something stressful is happening, the brain signals the nerves to release adrenaline and related chemicals sending quick energy to the muscles. These stress hormones direct the body to dump sugar into the bloodstream, providing quick energy for a sprint away from danger. However, in situations where there is repeated stress, the beneficial effects of stress hormones are reversed, decreasing memory function, energy levels and immunity, making one more susceptible to sickness.

4. Depressions and Negative Attitudes

Depression and DespairOur personality is usually defined by our attitudes, patterns of behavior and ways of adapting to the everyday challenges of life. Optimism has been show to have a positive immune response and seems to be a key element for feeling in control and successfully coping with stressful situations. 

There is actually another form of stress, particularly harmful to immune function, that is called learned helplessness; a condition thought to occur from constant exposure to “uncontrollable” stressors—specifically, finding oneself in a painful or very uncomfortable situation from which there seems to be no hope of relief or escape. Depressives have also shown higher levels of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenalin, all of which negatively alter immune function.

5. Too much / Too little, Exercise

Regular moderate exercise has been linked to a positive immune system response and a temporary boost in the production of white blood cells, the cells that attack bacteria. There is a healthy body of research documenting that regular, consistent exercise can lead to substantial immune health benefits over the long-term. Moderate exercise helps immune cells circulate at a quicker pace throughout the body and able to more effectively detect illnesses earlier than normal.

6. Phytochemical Deficiency

Traditional folk wisdom has always emphasized the importance of vegetable and fruit consumption, but only within the last 30 years do we finally understand why. Nutritional science has isolated compounds in plants and vegetables that have literally restored life. These are called phytonutrients, or phytochemicals, the phyto referring to plant. These phytochemicals also help the plants survive in varied environments and stimulate the production of protective self-repairing cells in plants. Conveniently, they produce the same results in humans, reducing our susceptibility to disease. 

The minimum amount of assorted colored vegetables, for maximized protection, should be at a minimum of 5 servings per day—amounting to roughly 2-1/2 cups of vegetables in various styles of preparation; steamed, lightly sautéed, as soup, and raw.

7. Excess of Simple Sugars

Excess sugar depresses immunity and causes inflammation. Studies have shown that consuming 75 to 100 grams of a sugar solution (about 8 tablespoons of sugar– the amount contained in two average 12-ounce sodas) will overwhelmingly suppress the body’s natural immune responses by a minimum of 40%. Simple sugars such as glucose, table sugar, fructose, maple syrup and honey cause over a 50% decline in the ability of white blood cells do their detoxifying job of engulfing bacteria.

8. Nutritional Deficiencies & Mineral Loss

According to some research, our immune system is compulsively busy: an adult body produces approximately 126 billion white blood cells. Daily. The need to feed these hungry warriors good nutrition is crucial in order to maintain optimum immunity. Nutritional deficiencies can decrease a person’s natural capacity to resist infection and its aftermath, while decreasing the overall functioning of our immunity. No doubt, poor nutrition adversely affects all aspects of immunity.

Vitamin A, C, E, B-Complex, Zinc, Iron, Copper, Selenium are all vitamins, minerals and trace minerals that play a prominent role in keeping our immune system on its toes. Minerals can be considered the microscopic metals in your food; metallic fragments of earth’s crust that are released via rivers, wind and rain get into plant soils where they’re absorbed by the plants we consume. Healthful whole food sources of minerals include: whole grains, beans, leafy greens, vegetable roots, sea plants and fruit. 

9. Excessive Fat & Food Allergens

Fats can impair our immune response. Reducing fat from your diet can help to strengthen the immune defenses against cells that can potentially turn cancerous. Researchers in New York tested the effect of low-fat diets on immunity, placing healthy volunteers on a diet that limited fat content to 20 percent, reducing all fats and oils—not just saturated, or unsaturated fats. After three months, the researchers took blood samples from the volunteers and examined their immune function (natural killer cells). Immune cell activity was greatly improved.

10. Alcohol & Recreational Drugs

Excessive alcohol intake can harm the body’s immune system in several ways; first, it produces a general nutritional deficiency that deprives the body of valuable immune-boosting nutrients. Second, alcohol, like sugar, consumed in excess reduces the ability of white blood cells to kill germs. High doses of alcohol suppresses the ability of the white blood cells to multiply, inhibits the effectiveness of natural killer (NK) cells on cancer cells, and reduces the ability of white blood cells to attack tumors.


© Verne Varona

So, you see that there are many reasons for a weakened immune system, and it doesn’t make sense to “boost” your immunity if you are still participating in activities that will depress immunity.  We all know that change doesn’t happen overnight! Start with ONE of the ten items above, and make a small change. Go to bed earlier, try to relax more and try to find some soul-sustaining, sunshine-peeping activities that will provide you with a moment of peace.  

Leave me a comment below, and let me know what works for you!




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21 thoughts on “Reasons for a Weakened Immune System”

  • Amy this post is RIGHT up my alley so first thank you for it! I used to be a workaholic until I realized, sleep and rest was just as important. Moreover, once I made time to do it my attitude in general changed which caused me to get better results.

    This entire site is going in my bookmarks because I don’t feel enough good information like this exists sometimes. Obviously it does exist but people seldom live by it because they’re often consumed in too much negativity to notice.

    Thank you again for this post 🙂

  • Amy, I fully agree with you on this! Here in America we rush everywhere we go, eat tons of junk foods (many that are processed with labels that say things like “fat free” or “low carb” to get us to buy them), we stay connected to phones, computers and other devices all day and then we fall into bed to get less than the desired amount of rest for our bodies.

    Then we wonder why we are sick!!!!!

    I think we have “convenienced” ourselves into a state of poor health!


  • Our immune system is often left neglected but did you not create a superb post related to it! All the recommendations and points you made were spot on, cheers!

    I especially think that sleep is crucual for our bodily functions to work properly. In this regard I learned new things as well – who would’ve thought that there’s a correlation between sleep deprivation and breast cancer?

    By the way, do you think all those immuno-boosting supplements work?

    • Hi Simon…! I think that in order for the immune-boosting supplements to work, we have to make sure that the choices we are making nurture our health and our bodies — so that we won’t ultimately NEED those supplements. If our bodies are full of toxins and sugars, experience lack of sleep, stress and other life-exhausting issues, then how can those supplements work? I don’t believe they will. The author of this article, Verne Varona, talks more about this in his books, which are on my book review page. I appreciate your comments and thank you for writing! /a.

  • Wow. There’s so much of great information in this article! I totally agree with the sleep part. I’ve used to get irregular sleep, but by changing my hair to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day (including weekend!), it has increase my quality of life. I now get minimum 7hours of sleep everyday and I’ve never felt better in my life before! I have more energy and feel refreshed every morning.

    But the best things with this change it’s I’ve been able to make better choice with my food (more veges) and exercise more regularly. Trust me, getting more sleep everyday works!

    • Hi Isaac — absolutely — sleep is key and i have learned the hard way. Sometimes we don’t realize how inefficient we are without sleep — until it is too late and we’ve made bad decisions, either at work, in our relationships, or with food. Thanks so much for writing…! /a.

  • I was very interested to read about the link between late night light and the body’s production of melatonin and it’s relation to breast cancer. In the future I’ll be very conscious of my husband’s use of electronics such as a bright alarm clock in our bedroom!

  • In my experience bad diet, stress and lack of sleep are the number one factors of weakened immune system. Exercise will help greatly for getting the stress levels down and inducing better and deeper sleep.
    I believe that good plant based diet and some natural food supplements, such as green juice and vegan protein powders can assist you to health!
    Ancient ayurvedic saying goes: Food is medicine, so you are what you eat!

  • Thanks for the info. I work out and ride a bike about 7-10 miles during the work week. It has been a long time since I have had a cold or flu. I remember when I was not sleeping enough or working out and I caught colds all the time. So your article has a lot of truth in it.

  • It makes sense with these factors that your immune system would be weakened. It’s overwhelming that so many things can affect your immune system. Stress is a major contributor. It takes such a toll on the body. I try and stay positive and eat properly because if I don’t sleep at night it really affects me. I watch my sugar levels and exercise as much as possible.

    • Hi Rob…! Yes it is really incredible how all of this takes its toll. I learned the hard way with a breast cancer diagnosis but going on 14 years cancer-free so I’d like to think I’ve learned something along the way….! Thanks…

  • These are very interesting factors you pointed out. Im not surprised that too much alchohol and drugs can weaken an immune system. Didn’t know about stress though. A couple questions:

    How would you recommend someone get enough sleep especially when they have long hours at work?

    Also, do you have some ways I can reduce my emotional stress?

    Thank you for your help,


    • Hi Jesse,

      Thanks for writing! Let me see if I can address your concerns about sleep and stress, 2 of the biggest issues we all face, because we don’t get enough of one, and too much of the other…!

      As for sleep, if you work long hours, is it possible to go to sleep earlier? Do you work during the day or a night shift? If you work during the day then perhaps going to bed earlier would help, and not making too many plans during the week. It is important to make yourself a priority. Tell me a little more about your hours and I will try to help you come up with a plan.

      As for emotional stress, again, it is hard to say because I don’t have a lot of information, but if you can identify the things that are upsetting or stressing you out, that may be a good start. Would counseling help? Sometimes if we need therapy for the short term, it’s not so terrible, especially if it serves to put things into perspective.

      Hope I was able to answer your questions…! Thanks for reaching out! Onward…

  • It almost seems to me that all health factors contribute to the proper functioning of our immune system. Would you agree with this? I realize that you’ve listed the top ten, but it does seem like those ten areas, actually encompass such a vast diversity of health aspects. And there are so many diseases that are directly related to our immune systems. It must take a lot of willpower, just like weight management does, to consistently eat right and avoid the wrong foods, to effectively manage our immune system. This is a very eye opening article that you’ve written, and most appreciated. Do you personally stick to all the proper do’s and don’ts associated with immune system health? I just want to know if you find it easy to do, or is it always a challenge?

    • Hi Jim,

      First I just wanted to mention that the article was authored by Verne Varona. You’ll see on my site at the top nav bar that he is a contributing author, and that a lot of the material on the site is his. If you’d like to know more about this, you can check out his books on my book review post from last week.

      In answer to your comments and questions, yes, it takes a huge amount of willpower to live a balanced life. No one is perfect and we all struggle with our own issues. I had breast cancer because my immune system was so shot that my body was completely torn down — from stress, mostly, and the subsequent reaction of choosing unhealthy foods and what followed was a devastating year….

      yes it is a challenge, every day, to find a balance. I try to pick one or 2 things on the list to focus on and then once they become a habit, I go to some other items on the list.

      I would suggest that you take a look at Verne’s book, Nature’s Cancer-Fighting Foods, where he talks about a lot of this, and how to find ways to eat right and to eat in a nourishing way — spiritually, emotionally and of course, physically.

      I hope this addressed some of your questions, and please write again if you have some more. So glad you’re a part of my wellness posse…

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