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
Chronic 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
Our 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!