I hate to break the news, but you may be harming your immune system without even knowing it.
Fortunately, some lifestyle changes and new habits can help you rebuild your body’s defenses against illness, infections and disease. Read through the most common ways that people make their immune systems weaker—and how to fix them.
You take too many antacids
70 percent of our immune system is located in the gut in lymphoid tissues that line the entire digestive tract. This means that if you do damage to your gut, you harm your overall immune system. That’s why taking antacids (like Tums) too much could have a negative effect on your immune system. In fact, strong antacids alter stomach pH that needs to be acidic to sterilize food, and cause deficiencies in nutrients (like vitamins B12 and C, zinc, and iron) that cannot be absorbed in low acidity.
You take certain pain medications
Some pain medications, like steroids and NSAIDs, can damage your intestinal lining. As a result, infections can more easily make their way through the intestinal wall and into the rest of your body, which stresses the immune system and decreases its ability to function properly.
You’re on antibiotics
When women take antibiotics multiple times a month (think: maybe five to six days every few weeks), it can be harmful to the intestinal lining. Being on these medications for too long can wipe out both the good and the bad bacteria in the gut. When healthy bacteria are not present, the weakened intestinal lining allows toxins to be reabsorbed into the rest of the body, resulting in a weakened immune system.
You binge drink
Chronic binge drinking suppresses bone marrow production of red and white blood cells, which will hurt your immune system as time passes. Binge drinking for women is considered to be consuming about four drinks over the course of two hours, but any time you drink enough to feel drunk in a short period of time could also be called binge drinking.
You’re on a low-carb, low-cal diet
People who engage in any sort of extreme diet, particularly one that is very low in carbs or very restricted in calories, tend to get sick more often. That’s because these diets lack certain vitamins and minerals—like zinc, selenium and magnesium—that you get naturally from eating well-balanced meals.
You travel a lot
Women who travel for work tend to report feeling more run-down, more often. Experts suspect that the reason is that these women are repeatedly being exposed to germs and pollutants that their bodies aren’t familiar with on planes and in hotels. Other factors associated with travel, like not getting enough rest, straying from your regular diet, and being out of your routine, can also take a toll on your immune system.
Studies show that chronic loneliness can lower your immune system and put you at a higher risk for multiple diseases. Experts estimate that 20 percent of Americans feel a persistent sense of significant loneliness or isolation from others, meaning that chronic loneliness may be more common than you think. Ongoing isolation actually changes your biology, causing cells to exhibit more genes involved in inflammation and fewer involved in warding off infection.
You’re not getting enough sleep
Your mom probably taught this to you before you turned 10-years-old, but poor sleep is associated with lower immune system function. When you miss essential shut-eye, the body loses numbers of cells that fight germs.
You need to get more exercise
One in four American women don’t exercise, which sets anyone up for sickness. When comparing active and inactive people, researchers found that people who didn’t walk took twice as many sick days from work in four months than those who strolled regularly. Experts recommend about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise to get your white blood cells back into circulation and build your immune system.
You’re stressed out
Prolonged periods of intense stress can affect the immune system, according to the National Cancer Institute. Stress boosts the brain’s production of the hormone cortisol, which impairs the function of infection-fighting T cells in the body.