In this new world that we find ourselves, it goes without saying that it is more important than ever to support our immune systems in any way we can, and to take active steps to stay healthy.
While we must all, of course, take the very necessary precautions of wearing our masks, washing our hands and practising social distancing, it is equally important to bolster our bodies’ natural defences, should those “invaders” still find a way in.
If you have noticed that you are prone to feeling tired without an obvious cause, or perhaps you regularly feel under the weather, it may mean that your immune system is under strain or has been weakened.
What are the signs of a weak immune system?
Everybody is different and, if you have concerns about your health you should always consult a qualified doctor. However, here are just a few of the main warning signs that your immune system may be compromised, as well as top tips on what you can do to give it a boost.
1. You regularly suffer from “colds” and infections
If it feels like you always have a cold, it is a good sign that your immune system is struggling. While it is completely normal for adults to have the sniffles from time to time throughout the year, the average is two or three infections. If you are experiencing cold symptoms more often than that, or it takes you longer than around a week to bounce back, your immune system could be described as weakened.
During an active cold, it usually takes a fully-functioning immune system approximately 3 to 4 days to develop the required antibodies to fight off the illness. However, if you are constantly catching colds (or have chronic colds that just won’t budge), that is a very clear sign that your immune system is struggling.
Similarly, if you seem to be beleaguered with other types of infections on a regular basis, such as Candida albicans, your immune system might be sending you signals that it needs help. A compromised immune system in the gut, specifically, can have consquences for our ability to fend off opporunitistic pathogens of this type, that are just waiting for a dip in gut flora to spread and take hold.
Other common infections that might flag a weakened immune system when experienced on a regular basis include:
- ear infections
- and chronic sinusitis.
2. You have digestive issues
The gut comprises a major part of the body’s immune system (as much as 70%). If you find that you regularly experience digestive complaints (such as stomach pain, constipation, diarrhoea, wind or bloating), it could be a sign that your immune system is compromised.
This is because levels of friendly bacteria and microorganisms that naturally occur in the gut, which help to defend your body from viruses, bacteria and other pathogens, can be lowered during times of illness, use of medication, times of stress etc. If your microbiome is compromised, so too will be your immune system. And you experience the symptoms mentioned above, because lower numbers of good bacteria can directly impact other aspects such as digestion, inflammation and vulnerability to attack – thereby creating a viscious circle.
3. Your wounds are slow to heal
If your immune system is weakened, it can affect a number of other processes and systems around the body, as vital energy and nutrients are diverted to work harder to protect you. For example, your skin goes into damage control mode after you have a cut or scrape. Your body works to protect the wound by sending nutrient-rich blood to the injury to help regenerate new skin. This healing essential healing process depends on healthy immune cells, but if your immune system is weakened, your skin can’t regenerate as it should. Instead, it takes longer and (once again) leaves you more vulnerable to infection.
4. Your stress levels are high
You will no doubt be aware, and will have experienced first hand, that high levels of stress can run you down. Continuous stress then has the unfortunate effect of compromising your immune system further, creating a cycle of compromised immunity. You feel stressed, you get run down, which then leads to heightened stress as you find it harder to cope with your day, and so on.
Put simply, long-term stress weakens the natural responses of your immune system by lowering lymphocyte levels (the white blood cells that help fight off infection). The lower your lymphocyte levels, the more you are at risk of infection.
5. You feel tired all the time
If you feel chronically fatigued, without obvious cause, your body is definitely trying to tell you something. A compromised immune system can directly impact energy levels, as your body attempts to conserve energy to ensure it can fuel your defence against invaders.
So you’ve worked out that you have a weak immune system. Now what can you do about it?
How can I boost my immune system?
There are a number of simple steps that you can take to boost your immune system naturally and effectively:
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet – eating a diet that is rich in a wide variety of natural, seasonal (preferably organic) whole foods, is a key way to protect and strengthen your immune system. This is because it will give your body all the nutrients that are essential for a optimally functioning immune system, such as vitamin C, vitamin D, essential fatty acids, antioxidants etc. Where necessary, perhaps supplement your diet with additional vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients that you may be concerned are lacking in your diet.
- Get enough sleep – allowing your body to rest and repair is a very obvious, yet easy and effective, way to support a weakened immune system.
- Exercise regularly – the other side of the coin is getting regular exercise. Not only does the strengthen the body, it also offers a highly effective means of body detoxification, through the movement of lymph around the body (the fluid that flows through the lymphatic system, that contains white blood cells).
- Maintain a healthy weight – it seems very likely that obesity is a key factor in adverse response to COVID-19 infections. But aside from COVID, maintaining a healthy weight is a key aspect in maintaining a healthy body generally, with a strong immune system that is fit and able to fight off infections of all kinds.
- Don’t smoke or over-indulge – try to make good choices on a daily basis and don’t make it harder for your body to function at it’s best. Indulging in smoking, drinking in excess, unhealthy foods etc is only going to compromise your immune system if done on a regular basis.
- Try to minimise stress – perhaps easier said than done, try to avoid stressful situations wherever possible and increase activities that make you feel good. Exercise will help to release endorphins, and activities like yoga and Tai Chi have been shown to actively increase T-cell counts.
A strong immune system is the key to good health and longevity, so the more you can do to protect it, the better.
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