Your immune system is a natural wonder. Every day your body deals with viruses, bacteria, and other poisons – shielding you from disease.
The effectiveness of your immune system depends on many factors. They include the balance of nutrients you consume, stress, fitness levels, sleep (or lack of it) and your age. With the amazing properties of immune health still the topic of scientific research, there are undoubtedly medical advances still to come.
This page looks at the 80/20 rule for immune health. Known as the ‘Pareto Principle’, this rule of thumb hypothesises that you get 80% of the positive results for 20% of the effort.
My question here is what quick changes to your lifestyle give you the quickest improvements to your overall immune health?
There are multiple ways that excess weight reduces the effectiveness of your immune system. The biggest factor concerns inflammation. This happens internally and externally when your body is fighting infections. This means your body is actively fighting the infection, marshalling resources such as cytokines in the process.
A problem with excess fat – especially when it reaches levels associated with obesity – is that your body is in a permanent state of inflammation. Your body goes into a chronic state where your immune system is stressed. The always-on state degrades your ability to deal with real invaders.
Shifting excess weight as part of a sustained healthy lifestyle will boost your immune response.
Changing the balance of what you eat is a quick way to boost your immune health. Some of these effects are based on weight. Sugar and high GI carbs can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain and (sometimes) diabetes.
You can get a quick boost by switching to a diet that covers all the bases for the nutrients essential for immune health. It only takes an imbalance in one or two micronutrients to knock your defences against infection sideways.
Evidence has linked the following to immune health: Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Folic Acid, Copper, Iron, Selenium, and Zinc.
Leafy greens, nightshades, fruits, vegetables, natural oils, and nuts give you a solid range of healthy foods. Next time you reach for that sugary snack, try replacing it with something that will improve both your overall health and give your immune system a boost.
Regular exercise can’t be ignored for any aspect of health. The effects on your immune system are secondary – it is the other benefits of working out that benefit your immune health. By staying fit, you avoid inflammation, weight gain, and improve your cardio vascular health.
With everything else in harmony, your immune response will not be needed in multiple parts of your body at once. It will be in the best possible condition to see off invading organisms when they do appear.
These days optimizing sleep is fashionable. There are apps, accessories, and entire guides on the topic. Healthy sleeping habits include reducing caffeine, no screen time before bed and giving it priority in your schedule.
It is now clear that sleep deprivation is linked to a poor immune response. What is even more interesting is that this relationship is bi-directional. While you sleep your body produces extra cytokines, sleep has also been linked to ‘immune memory’, where the system learns from the pathogens it has fought off recently.
If you have ever felt run down and generally unhealthy after disrupted sleep – then the link to your immune system could well have been a factor.
Stress affects your health in multiple ways. The traditional ‘stressed executive’ image involving stomach ulcers is only the tip of the iceberg. Short-term stress is bad for you, it is the long-term effects of Chronic Stress where the worst effects on your immune system takes place.
Over time your immune response goes from heightened to hugely supressed. This can be a vicious circle, where illness (due to reduced immune responses) can exacerbate whatever was causing the stress to start with… and more stress leading to lowered immune function.
Before you reach for those expensive supplements or exotic herbal remedies – there are some quick and easy immune boosting habits to get into. Keeping your weight under control is an excellent starting point. A balanced diet, regular exercise, good sleeping habits and keeping the stress at bay are also positives.
Anything that damages your health will also deplete your immune system. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and the daily poison of sugary foods should be cut as soon as possible.
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