What causes a weak immune system?

weak immune system
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Since the onset of Covid-19, we all have been in a pursuit to strengthen our immune systems as research has established that people with better immunity have an advantage in fighting this pandemic over those with weak immune system.

But are we doing enough? While most of the population has been having a disturbed pattern of work, sleep and meal timings during the lockdown along with the added stress; taking vitamins, immunity drops/ kadha doesn’t cover up everything for your immunity.
Let’s look into the detrimental reasons that affect one’s health by reducing the body’s capacity to fight infections.

Excessive hygiene

hygiene
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‘Extremes of anything is never good’. Similarly, when it comes to washing hands, one needs to be careful; it needs to be done correctly. Center for Disease Control recommends a minimum of 15 seconds of scrubbing hands with soap. But at the same time using hand sanitizers and practicing other hygiene measures too often could weaken the immune system as we end up killing the normal microflora of our bodies. Though there is no scientific evidence to support that extra hygiene precautions will weaken the immune system.

Lack of sleep

insomnia
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We need to follow the sleep-wake cycles of our circadian rhythms to keep the immune system healthy. Not getting enough or timely sleep can increase the levels of stress hormone, cortisol, which suppresses the immune function. Also, the body won’t be able to make infection fighting cells. There is reduced natural killer cell activity, suppressed interleukin-2 production and increased levels of circulating pro-inflammatory cytokines – which are all bad for the immune system.

Foods and drinks that wreak havoc

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  • Eating too little fruits and vegetables: Though we all are aware of the importance of vital minerals and vitamins for our immunity; eating too less of fruits and vegetables is of common concern. One needs to eat at least 4-5 servings of vegetables and 2-3 servings of fruits per day. These foods may help the body make more of the white blood cells needed to fight off infections.
  • A diet high in saturated fats, high in sugars and salt creates a negative impact on immunity. Select lean protein like chicken, seafood, lean meat without visible fats. Having a good gut health is crucial for a good immune system. So, don’t let the bad bacteria feast on the sugars coming through the processed, packaged and refined foods. Over exposure to high sugary stuff makes the white blood cells incapable to defend the body from pathogens making one prone to more infections. Sugars also leads to depletion of b-vitamins and vitamin-C.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption: It is well proven that too much alcohol intake can weaken the immune response which includes increased susceptibility to pneumonia and also acute respiratory stress syndrome (ARDS) which have been observed in a Covid-19 infection too. Alcohol reduces the function of immune cells like the T- and B-Lymphocytes, natural killer cells and monocytes and macrophages, thereby decreasing the inflammatory response and altering cytokine production.
  • Increased caffeine intake: Extended hours of work is making people susceptible to drinking huge amounts of tea, coffee and energy drinks which have high caffeine content. This results in poor quality sleep leading to increased inflammation and thereby causing reduced immunity. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it will dehydrate the body very easily; again, not a good sign for our defense mechanism.
  • Reduced fiber intake: Less fruits, vegetables and whole grains intake on a daily basis can impact the gut-flora which is responsible for good immunity.
  • Processed and refined foods: Packed foods coming off the shelves like white breads, wafers, biscuits, cakes, cookies, packaged fruits juices are depleted of nutrients and are high in calories. Do not forget the additives, flavor enhancing agents and preservatives which tag along!! These foods cause inflammation and put additional stress on the immune system.

Smoking

smoking
Cigarette smoking is injurious to health. Image Credit: Andres Siimon/ Unsplash

Cigarettes and tobacco contain deadly nicotine which weakens the immunity. Nicotine increases cortisol, the stress hormone, reducing the formation of B-cells and reducing T-cells’ response to bacteria, viruses and other antigens. Even e-cigarettes are not good because of the free radicals present in their vapors that cause airway inflammation.

Stress

stress
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Mental stress is a common problem faced by many in today’s hectic lifestyle. Lack of work-life balance is another major reason for compromised immune function. Stress, anxiety and depression causes the brain to release the stress hormone, cortisol, which impairs the function of t-cells responsible for fighting infections.

Sedentary lifestyle, obesity and diabetes

weight gain working from home
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The lockdown period due to Coronavirus has increased inactivity to a large extent. This can lead to a compromised immune system, increased inflammation levels and thereby inviting infections and chronic diseases.

Obesity causes an imbalance of leptin, the hunger hormone. Leptin is also needed for certain immune functions. Obese people can have leptin resistance due to which they can have a lowered immune function.
Similarly, high blood sugar in diabetics increases inflammation and leads to lowered immunity.

Excessive exercise

Workout
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Contrary to common beliefs, excessive strenuous workouts lead to overtraining syndrome. It makes you more susceptible to infections.

Antibiotics and other medications

antibiotics
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Random and long-term use of antibiotics is very rampant. These antibiotics interfere with the body’s microbiome by killing the ‘good bacteria’ along with the other pathogens. This leaves the digestive system with a higher population of bad bugs causing reduced immunity.
Drugs used in treatment of auto immune disorders like lupus, organ transplant are also known to cause reduced immune response.

Low Vitamin-D

vitamin-d
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Less or negligible exposure to sunlight, impaired absorption of nutrients and faulty diets and lifestyles have made vitamin-D deficiency a pretty common phenomenon. Vitamin-D is vital for optimal immune function apart from maintaining strong bones and healthy blood cells.

Takeaway

Ensure you consider the above factors which cause a weak immune system while taking care of your health. We all are in the fight for eradicating the coronavirus as quickly as possible. Taking small steps in building a rock-solid immune system will go a long way in healing humanity in the future too!!

References

https://www.health.com/condition/autoimmune-disease/weak-immune-system

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Renu is a Clinical Dietitian and Diabetes Educator. In her last 15 years of practice, she has focused on two things: making her clients learn the concepts of "right diet for them" and giving them "Happy to follow" diet programs by offering healthy alternatives, very close to their regular eating habits. This approach resulted in permanent change in the dietary habits and significant improvement in health status for over 7000 clientele of Renu. Apart from Weight Management programs, she has been successful in dietary treatment of diabetes, thyroid related issues, gut health related issues like acid reflux, constipation and IBS, PCOS and other hormonal imbalances, child nutrition, sports nutrition and all lifestyle related disorders.

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