The immune system protects the body from pathogens. It’s made up of the innate immune system (the skin, mucus membranes, and inflammatory response) and the adaptive immune system (specific cellular responses for each pathogen).
Habits that can help the functioning of the immune system include:
- Eating enough nutrients. This is key to a healthy immune system. Proteins are especially important for a working immune system because they create and maintain the skin and mucosal barriers to protect against infections. They also help mount an immune defense response. Having adequate micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), fiber, and unsaturated fatty acids also helps with immunity.
- Being up to date on vaccinations. Vaccines can
help your immune system protect youfrom certain infections. While most people get vaccines as children, certain booster vaccines are needed periodically (Tdap, influenza, shingles) to help protect the body from future infections.
- Getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation and altering the circadian rhythm can impact the immune system and increase the number of inflammatory cytokines circulating in the body.
- Getting regular exercise. Studies have shown that exercise helps decrease circulatory inflammatory chemicals and enhances vaccination responses. Animal research suggest that exercise may help prevent immunosenescence, also known as the aging of the immune system.
It’s been difficult to demonstrate a link between stress levels and immune system function. But studies have shown that people with higher stress levels have
And as previously mentioned, both lack of sleep and poor eating habits can also negatively impact your immune system.
Reduced sleep and alterations in sleep rhythm can make your body more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections.
A balanced diet with sufficient protein and micronutrients is essential to a well-functioning immune system.
You can find high value sources of proteins in foods like:
- lean meat
- whey protein
Vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids act as antioxidants and are found in foods like citrus fruits, peanut butter, and carrots.
Research doesn’t yet show clear support for adding supplements to help boost the immune system. But
Some studies have also advocated for using vitamin C in treating the
The benefits of exercise don’t stop at improved cardiovascular health. Regular physical activity can also benefit your immune system.
People with weakened immune systems
For example, dietary recommendations include avoiding raw meat and fish, unpasteurized dairy, and unwashed fruits and vegetables. Ensuring your vaccinations are up to date is also important.
And if you plan to participate in activities, like swimming and hiking, consider talking with a doctor. You may also want to speak with a doctor before using cannabis, since there’s a risk of transmitting fungal infections like aspergillus.
Dr. Elizabeth Thottacherry is an ABMS board certified internal medicine physician specializing in infectious diseases. She’s a practicing physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital.