However, there are numerous things that you can do on an individual level to help make sure your immune system is healthy and functioning properly. The first step is becoming aware of what behaviors and lifestyle habits may be causing problems for your immune system. Most people do these things without even realizing the harm they are causing to their health!
Here are 5 ways that you may be harming your immune system, and some positive changes you can make today to reduce your risk of disease, and improve your odds for living a long and healthy life.
We think of antibiotics as something we take to make us healthy when we are ill, but in fact, antibiotics are doing a whole lot more harm than most people realize...
You see, antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria, so if you take them for a bacterial infection, not only do they kill the infection, but they also kill millions of good bacteria that help to maintain a proper bacterial balance in your gut - which is one of the most important parts of your immune system!
Unfortunately, antibiotics are highly over-prescribed, and are often used for non-bacterial infections as well - which they don't help cure in the first place, but they still cause damage to all the "good bugs" that normally help keep you healthy. This is why you often hear of people being put on multiple courses of antibiotics - once your immune system is damaged, you can enter a vicious cycle of illness that is difficult to recover from.
We are also exposed to antibiotics in our food, as antibiotics are often routinely fed to industrially farmed animals to keep them from getting sick when confined in unhealthy conditions for most of their lives.
The Fix: Do your best to avoid taking antibiotics. If you are prescribed an antibiotic and you're not quite sure what it's for, be sure to ask your doctor - "is this illness caused by a bacteria?" If not, you shouldn't be taking an antibiotic for it!
Sometimes you will be given antibiotics preventatively, such as before a surgery. If you must take antibiotics for this or any other reason, be sure to follow them up with at least 30 days of a high-quality probiotic supplement! Consuming fermented foods such as naturally fermented sauerkraut or kimchi will also help to restore a healthy bacterial balance in your gut, and get your immune system back on track to good health.
2. Too Much...(Sugar & Processed Foods)
I know you don't want to hear it, but yes, sugar is not just bad for your waistline - it's also bad for your immune system. I bet you didn't know that when you downed that can of soda, you were actually decreasing your body's immune response immediately...
In fact, drinking just one can of regular soda can depress your immune system for up to 5 hours! And according to this article, "eating or drinking 100 grams (8 tbsp.) of sugar, the equivalent of two- and-a-half 12-ounce cans of soda, can reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by 40 percent."
However, "sugar" doesn't just mean white sugar - it means glucose, which our bodies produce when we eat certain foods. In this case, "sugar" doesn't mean candy or sweeteners - it means any starchy food high in simple carbohydrates such as bagels or crackers, which are broken down into glucose during digestion.
The Fix? Limit your consumption of simple carbs, and instead, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, which often contain immune-boosting vitamins and antioxidants. You don't have to cut out ALL carbs (this extreme isn't that healthy either), and once in a while a sweet treat is okay - but make sure to avoid them entirely if you feel like you may be coming down with something.
3. Not Enough...(Sleep & Exercise)
Guess what? You already knew that exercise was good for you, but did you know it can also boost your immune system? According to WebMD, those who exercise regularly are less likely to come down with colds and other infections.
Not only does exercise improve immune response, but it also releases endorphins which help improve your mood and relieve depression and fatigue, and it helps you sleep better - another extremely important factor in immune system function.
Speaking of sleep, most people (including many doctors) greatly underestimate the importance of sleep for good health. In fact, lack of sleep can severely and chronically inhibit immune function.
Personally speaking, I have found that I almost never get sick - unless I don't get enough sleep. Of the handful of times I have been sick over the past 5 years, every single one of them followed a bout of sleeplessness.
Sleep allows your body to rest, recover, and repair itself. Not getting enough of it puts enormous stress on all of your bodily systems - but especially your hardworking immune system.
The Fix: Exercise regularly, and get at least 8 hours of shut-eye every night! (Check out this article for a few tips on better sleep.) Note: The one exception on exercise is if you are already sick. Exercising strenuously when sick (or getting sick) can actually put more stress on your body, which is not helpful. Wait until you are well, and then commit to a regular exercise program to help you stay that way!
4. Exposure to Toxins
One thing that can also challenge your immune system is exposure to various toxins and chemicals. Your body has the amazing ability to clean itself of toxins and substances that would harm it. Although you aren't aware of it, millions of cells within your body are constantly busy removing waste and toxic buildup that would otherwise kill you (this is why you will quickly die if your liver or kidneys - two major detoxifying organs - cease functioning well).
Unfortunately, in today's modern world we are exposed to thousands of chemicals on a daily basis. There are chemicals in the air (air pollution, traffic fumes, etc.), water (agricultural chemicals, prescription drug residues, etc.), and in our food (pesticides and other chemicals). We also voluntarily expose ourselves to chemicals on a regular basis by using chemical-filled soaps, lotions, makeup and skin care, household cleaners, and lawn and garden chemicals.
All these toxins can put extra pressure on your bodily systems, leaving the immune system with less energy to fight off the bad stuff that it is faced with on a daily basis. Eventually, a weakened immune system - and increased illness and disease - can result.
The Fix: While it is literally impossible to avoid all chemicals in your daily environment, you can certainly take steps to lessen your exposure:
- Get a good water filter that removes toxins like chlorine and fluoride and other chemicals from your water.
- Eat organic foods whenever possible - it's true there may still be some chemicals present, but they will be much fewer than on conventionally grown foods.
- And switch to non-toxic, organic, or all-natural products in and around your home, as well as those you use on your body. There are hundreds of safer and less toxic brands readily available online and on store shelves today, so ditch the toxins, and make the switch! (Grab a copy of our FREE "Toxic Load Checklist" for more ways to reduce your toxic exposure and improve your health.)
Ah, yes, stress. The modern-day killer. You knew this one would make the list, right?
Chronic stress is terrible for just about every aspect of your health, but none more insidious than its effect on the immune system. You could even say that stress is the cause for most of the other habits and causes listed above... Stress can impair sleep, cause overeating and cravings for sugary junk foods, and make you sick - and then even when you take antibiotics, it can inhibit the recovery process.
Unfortunately, most Americans lead high-stress lives (for a number of reasons which I won't go into here today), and it's killing our immune systems. Chronic stress creates a constant state of "fight-or-flight" within our bodies, which keeps all of our systems "on alert" at all times. This greatly impairs your body's ability to fight infection, and it also creates chronic inflammation within the body, which has been linked to an increase in all types of illness and disease - from simple respiratory illnesses, to heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Since your immune system is responsible for helping to deal with all of these issues, along with removing toxins and pathogens from the body, it can easily become overworked, and unable to keep up with its main and most important task - keeping you healthy.
The Fix: Just stop it with the stress, already!
Okay, I admit it's easier said than done. However, most of the fixes listed above will also help reduce stress. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress (and hey, it's free!). I especially love yoga, which helps eliminate mental stress as well as physical. Getting plenty of sleep can also help you to feel less stressed and better able to cope with daily challenges. Eating healthy can also help reduce cravings and relieve the stress of feeling bad about your diet. Meditation, journaling, and other reflective coping techniques can also help relieve mental and emotional stress.
Take good care of your immune system! It works hard to keep you alive and healthy every day! The simple tips above will help you to build a strong, healthy immune system that will hopefully see you through a long and healthy life. They don't require much work, but they do require some commitment and awareness on your part. Isn't your immune system (and your life) worth it?
To learn more about your wondrous immune system and how to support it for optimum health, be sure to check out this month's FREE event: The Immune Defense Summit.
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To your health,