IT'S that time of year when most of us are picking up or recovering from lurgies.
But if you seem to be constantly ill or taking ages to recover from each bug or cold, it might mean your immune system is down.
Your immune system is your body's natural defence against illness caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and toxins.
It's made up of different organs, cells, and proteins that work together to eradicate intruders.
There are two types of immunity: innate – which are the defence systems you were born with – and acquired, what you develop when your body is exposed to microbes.
Your low immunity could be due to things you simply can't control, such as certain conditions like diabetes or having to take specific medications.
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But there are plenty of behaviours and activities within your control that could be putting you at risk of nasty winter bugs.
Here are 13 things you're doing that are destroying your immune system.
1. You're not sleeping enough
Good sleep is the pillar of good health, so not getting enough of it can have a number of ramifications, including on your immune system.
Too little kip can render you vulnerable viruses and germs, and it can also make it harder for you to recover from them, according to WebMD.
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That's because your body is less able to make infection-fighting cells and proteins called antibodies to help defend against illness when you're not clocking in enough hours.
Your body only releases proteins that help the immune system – called cytokines – during sleep.
2. You're anxious
According to WebMD, just having anxious thoughts can weaken your immune response in as little as 30 minutes – so think what constant stress can do to your ability to fend off viruses.
3. You're not getting enough vitamin D
While it's easy to load up on vitamin D during spring and summer, it's harder to do so in the winter months, as sunlight is too weak or infrequent for your body to make the vitamin.
Research by the University of Edinburgh recently suggested that vitamin D deficiency "can dramatically influence the immune system".
Exposure to sunlight is not the only way you can load up on the vitamin – the NHS said you can get it from foods like:
- oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
- red meat
- egg yolks
- fortified foods – such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals
But it suggested taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D as a supplement daily between late March and early April.
4. You're not spending enough time outdoors
Research from Georgetown University found that sunlight doesn't only boost vitamin D.
The rays can also energise your T lymphocytes, cells part of your immune system that help fight infection.
5. You're not eating enough fruit and veggies
Fruit and veggies can help your body make white blood cells to fight off infection.
As the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health put it, "a diet lacking in one or more nutrients can impair the production and activity of immune cells and antibodies".
It recommended you eat a balanced diet with whole fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and plenty of water to keep fighting fit.
6. You're not exercising enough
Though most of us want nothing more than to hole up and be cosy at home during winter, a lack of exercise could be weakening your immune response.
According to WebMD, regular aerobic exercise keeps your blood flowing around your body more efficiently, helping your body defend itself against germs better.
7. You're not having enough sex
Getting your heart pumping with sex also seems to do your immune system a lot of good.
That's because sex raises levels of a germ-fighting substance called Immunoglobulin A, or IgA.
According to a 2021 study, people who had sex more than three times a month were more able to fight off infections like Covid-19.
8. You're drinking too much
The festive season does create more opportunities to indulge in booze.
But if you're going a little too hard, you might be seeing the consequences in your immune response.
According to WebMD, just overdoing it once slows your body’s ability to fight germs for up to 24 hours and drinking lots over longer periods of time can blunt your body's ability to repair itself.
9. You're smoking
Smoking is yet another no-no if you want to avoid getting ill, as tobacco can weaken your body's ability to fight germs.
Vaping also has the same effect, WebMD experts said, as the pens release other chemicals that weaken your immune system.
10. You're eating too much fat
Finally, what you put in your body can have a lot do with how it responds to germs and invaders.
Diets high in fat can upset the balance of bacteria in your gut that can help your immune response, while ultra-processed and sugary foods are also doing it no favours.
The Harvard School of Public Health said: "A Western diet high in refined sugar and red meat and low in fruits and vegetables can promote disturbances in healthy intestinal microorganisms, resulting in chronic inflammation of the gut, and associated suppressed immunity."
HOW CAN I BOOST MY IMMUNE SYSTEM?
Immunologist Dr Ross Walton previously told Sun on Sunday Health: “There is no silver bullet that will protect you but a real difference can be made to immunity by making some small changes.”
He recommended regularly exercising, practising mindfulness to suppress stress, eating fermented foods and getting jabs, among other tweaks to your lifestyle.
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Meanwhile, the Harvard School of Public Health had seven easy recommendations:
- Eating a balanced diet whole fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and plenty of water, like a Mediterranean diet, and taking multivitamins
- Not smoking
- Drinking alcohol in moderation
- Doing moderate exercise regularly
- Aiming for seven to nine hours of sleep nightly
- Trying to manage stress with healthy strategies like exercise, meditation, taking up a hobby or talking to a trusted friend
- Washing your hands throughout the day, especially before preparing food and after the toilet
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