Prevention is the most important weapon against illness. That’s why we’re looking under the hood at some common miscues and misunderstandings surrounding immune health. Here are some essential dos and don’ts to keep your immune system revved up for optimal performance in the face of microbial challenges.
Not only can exercise reduce our risk of developing heart disease, protect our brain health, and keep our bones strong, but it can do wonders for our immune systems as well. When we exercise, we boost the production of macrophages, important cells that attack viruses and bacteria that can trigger respiratory tract infections.
Supporting our immune systems is a happy byproduct of something that also helps reduce stress, rejuvenate muscles, and ease chronic pain. In other words, having a massage doesn’t just make us feel good; it may also pay dividends for our hard-working immune system.
There are different types of massage, ranging from gentle stroking to deeper tissue kneading. It’s a good idea to check with your health care practitioner before beginning a massage treatment if you have blood, vein, or bone problems.
Evidence indicates that alcohol consumption may have increased during the social isolation invoked during the COVID-19 pandemic. But increasing our intake of alcohol is a serious faux pas when it comes to our immune health.
There’s evidence from both human and animal research that overconsumption of alcohol decreases immune reactivity, reducing the body’s ability to fight infection. The best advice when it comes to safe alcohol consumption is to limit yourself.
- Men —3 standard drinks a day on most days; no more than 15 drinks a week.
- Women —2 standard drinks a day on most days; no more than 10 drinks a week.
Our body engages in a wide variety of little-understood and complex processes while we sleep. A group of scientists in Germany recently published a comprehensive review describing the process by which sleep can fight infection through positively impacting how our T cells (specialized immune cells) target virus-infected cells.
It Depends: Stress
Stress can induce our immune system’s acute phase response (“fight or flight”) that is associated with infections and tissue damage and increase the levels of circulating cytokines to help fight off infection.
This means that short-term stress may boost our immune function. But our immune systems can also be seriously stressed by stress, because when it’s constant and long term, the continuous higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines dysregulate our immune system. Serious harm to our mental and physical well-being can result, from anxiety and mood disorders to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
A diverse set of gut flora teaches the immune system to differentiate between friend and foe. Having the right set of gut microbes boosts the activity of immune cells in the gut.
Probiotics also restore the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut. They occur naturally in cultured foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt and in certain fermented drinks like kefir and kombucha. Taking probiotics in either food or supplemental form has been shown to reduce cold frequency by as much as 55 percent, likely due to influence on gut-based immune cells.