Our immune system protects us against diseases and foreign bodies each day. Acting as an identification system, the immune system exposes antigens. Antigens are essentially viruses, parasites, bacteria, and any other foreign substance in the body. The immune system allows the body to differentiate between antigens and the body’s healthy tissues. In order to maintain a healthy immune system or an up-to-par identification system, it is important to lead a healthy lifestyle, being; maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding smoking, getting enough adequate sleep, minimizing stress and fueling your body with the right vitamins and nutrients it needs to protect itself. These all coincide when it comes to maintaining a healthy immune system, and it is essential to consider the effects our lifestyles have on our bodies. Like a machine, the body has many different parts that need to be running smoothly for optimal functioning. Three notable things affect the immune system, the health of your gut, followed by your sleep schedule, and mental health.
Gut health is important when it comes to defending your immunity because of it being under constant fire from foreign bodies. Each time we consume food, we are exposing ourselves to new bacteria and antigens. It is important to maintain a nutritious diet in order to provide our bodies with an ample number of healthy vitamins and minerals to aid in the creation and support of healthy bacteria. In our guts, we have a microbiome made up of trillions of bacteria. The best way to maintain the delicate balance of good and bad bacteria is by eating a well-balanced diet. Fermented foods such as kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, and yogurt are a great source of probiotics. In a study by The National Institute of Agronomic Research, it has been proven that people who consume a lot of plain natural yogurt have more lactobacilli in their intestines (the good bacteria) and less Enterobacteriaceae (the bad bacteria), which is associated with chronic diseases and inflammation. That being said, I repeat, plain natural yogurt—not the over-sweetened, more sugar than dairy variety that is infesting dairy market shelves across America. While it tastes great and works as a great treat every now and then, sweetened yogurt will not result in the same health benefits as natural plain yogurt. Another great gut feeder is fiber. Increased fiber intake promotes bacteria growth, as fiber is not digested by the body but by the bacteria. In a 2017 study by the Georgia State University Institute for Biomedical Sciences, it was found that fiber is closely tied to the importance of gut health due to the need for bacteria to digest fiber. Fiber is present in artichokes, whole grains, and especially beans and legumes. In addition to a nutritious diet, the consumption of probiotic supplements creates an easy way to support gut flora daily, especially if your diet is still in the wood works, and could use a boost. By directly supplying the gut with healthy bacteria, probiotics are a great way to maintain a healthy bacteria balance. Like gut health, sleep also affects our immune system.
Lack of sleep has been shown to reduce immunity making the body susceptible to illness. That is right ladies and gentlemen, sleep is not for the weak, although we do suggest they try it. Without the proper amount of sleep, your body produces fewer cytokines. Cytokines are a type of protein that target infection and inflammation, essentially creating an immune response. For the body to produce and release cytokines, you must be asleep. Sleep is so important in defending your body because it is, in fact, battling most invading bacteria during sleep and the least during the day while you are awake. Essentially, the less you sleep, the weaker you become. The recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night will help keep your immune system in tip-top shape. If sleep is disrupted, naps are highly recommended being no longer than 30 minutes each, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Half-hour naps have been shown to decrease stress and minimize the effects of sleep deprivation on the immune system by boosting the production of leukocytes, or white blood cells. Leukocytes help the immune system take on infectious diseases. If you are having trouble balancing your sleep schedule, an easy way to maintain a steady sleep schedule is by intake of melatonin. Melatonin is a non-invasive method of promoting healthy sleep patterns and restful slumber. It has been proven to speed up the amount of time it takes to fall asleep as well as improve the quality of sleep, and because melatonin is already naturally produced by the body, it is gentle and non-habit forming. Improved sleep schedules can also decrease stress levels, which is important regarding your overall health.
It is important to decrease stress levels because of the negative effects they have on our immunity, and well, everything. When we get stressed, our immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is greatly reduced, making us more susceptible to infections. Stress can also have an indirect effect on our immunity as a person may use an unhealthy coping mechanism to reduce stress, such as drinking or smoking, which negatively impacts our immune system. When stressed, our digestive activity increases; this negatively affecting our gut flora and possibly causing ulcers. Increased blood pressure due to circulatory system strain can also affect the immune system negatively. Hypertension, which is consistently high blood pressure over several weeks, is a major risk factor in coronary heart disease. Let’s be honest, who actually enjoys being stressed out? If you said yes to that question, apply for a job in the food industry. Taking care of ourselves and asking for help when we need is a must, and self-care is definitely trending big time. There are so many ways we can practice self-care today. Our mental health has a huge effect on our physical being. In order to maintain a healthy mind and body, it is great to exercise regularly, meditate, journal, eat a healthy diet, maintain a normal sleep schedule, and more to help you function optimally with great immunity.
Our immune system is vital to our well-being and needs to be treated to flourish. It is important to remember that our immune system is connected to all other functions in our body, and it is important to maintain overall health in order to achieve optimal immune health. As aforementioned, a healthy diet, avoiding smoking or excessive drinking, an exercise regime, practicing self-care, consistent sleep, and regular vitamin intake are the best things you can do for your body to run efficiently and to support your immune systems.
There are so many other ways to maintain and improve your immunity, as well as your overall health and well-being. Your body is your most important asset and needs nourishment daily. A healthy lifestyle is a journey, not a destination, and continually evolves as we live our lives and experience new things. Please keep coming back to our 5 Star Healthy Blog Posts for more information and advice on how to live your happiest and healthiest life.
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Zou, Benoit Chassaing, Vishal Singh, Michael D. Fythe, Matam Vijay Kumar, Andrew T. Gewirtz. “Fiber-Mediated Nourishment of Gut Microbiota Protects against Diet-Induced Obesity by Restoring IL-22-Mediated Colonic Health.” Cell Host & Microbe, Jun 2017.
FS; Dhabhar. “Enhancing Versus Suppressive Effects of Stress on Immune Function: Implications for Immunoprotection and Immunopathology.” Neuroimmunomodulation, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2009.