There are few systems as complex as the one that works behind the scenes to protect you from infection, disease, and dysfunction. Like any complex entity, the collection of cells, organs, tissues, hormones, chemical messengers, and more that we collectively call the immune system requires resources and recovery to function properly. Unfortunately, but understandably, most people don’t think proactively in terms of our immunity and we tend to be surprised when it lets us down. This reactive approach is often because of the ubiquity of false “immune-boosting” tricks, magic supplements, and questionable hacks that do little or nothing to actually support the capabilities of your immune system. In stark contrast to hucksters shilling supplements and “detox” teas, at Invigor we promote a basic approach that focuses on a few major pillars to improve overall health and immune function:
As we fully illustrate each of these points, keep in mind that they are far from the only thing you will need to focus on in order to develop and sustain a fully functioning immune system – but they each are important to consider when attempting to determine exactly why your immune system might be letting you down. None will impact you on the level that consistently getting poor sleep can however.
Almost inarguably, the most important thing you can do to support your immune system is to get enough quality sleep. Sleep deprivation throws a wrench in your ability to function cognitively, hormonally, and metabolically. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that sleep, and the circadian rhythmicity that thrives on a consistent sleeping schedule are strong regulators of immunological processes. This complex relationship between sleep and immune function involves two-way communication between the central nervous system and immune system, facilitated by the use of shared signals and even direct innervations.
Creating healthy and consistent sleeping habits may take some time and effort, but it is absolutely worth it. Just ask the many types of cells that contribute to immunity. Essentially, all of the various forms of cytokines, T-cells, B-cells, NK cells, and more that work to protect us from infection and disease have distinct sleep/wake cycles just like every other cell, tissue, organ, and system in the body. More specifically, the European Journal of Physiology reported that T-cells and pro-inflammatory cytokines who neutralize invaders are most active at night, while cytotoxic NK cells and anti-inflammatory cytokines are most active during the day. These day/night shifts were developed over countless generations in which the human body (more specifically the immune system) adapted to the demands placed upon it. Even the expected changes in hormonal output during sleep has a direct impact on which immune processes are able to occur and experiencing prolonged periods of poor sleep and the systemic stress that comes as a result causes excessive and uncontrolled inflammation, and eventually immunodeficiency.
As you can see, the balance struck by your immune system and the various cells that contribute to your defense is a delicate one that at least partially relies on you getting enough quality sleep to keep going. Keep in mind that sleep duration isn’t the only metric to track, you must make sure you are creating a sleep environment that is conducive for getting enough quality sleep by ensuring:
Equally as complex and individual as your immune system is your metabolism. Therefore, making any broad statements about nutritional requirements for optimal immune function would be irresponsible and likely not wholly accurate – but there are some basic nutrients that clearly support immune function by providing it the resources it needs to protect you.
All of the specialized cells, neurotransmitters, chemical messengers, organs, and whatever else that works to create immunity, require resources to operate. Most of these resources take the form of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and various other compounds that are typically found in whole natural food sources. So it makes sense that foods that are rich in these much-needed nutrients would be good to incorporate into your diet – especially during times of the year when illness is especially prevalent. Some of the more important micronutrients for immune health include:
Eating a diet that allows you to at least maintain the levels of these nutrients in your blood and cells will certainly give you the greatest advantage possible in the constant battle against viruses, bacteria, parasites, cancerous cells, and more. Just taking a multivitamin may not be enough, it may take a much more specific approach for you and your individual inadequacies or deficiencies. Seek professional guidance to identify where you are falling short, as well as for how to best fill that void.
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As human beings, we actually kind of thrive on stress – but not the kind that most of us are experiencing every day. Short term stress and the physiological response to it can be incredibly beneficial to immune function – when protracted over extended periods of time however, stress becomes detrimental to immunity in overall health.
One classic example of how chronic stress is able to impede your ability to overcome immune obstacles has to do with everyone’s favorite hormone – cortisol. Cortisol is needed to modulate the inflammatory response in the body. It helps you manage inflammation by acting as a potent anti-inflammatory – so it makes sense that chronic stress has been found to cause an unchecked, and unwanted increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines. Chronic stress has also been found to suppress both the cellular and humoral immune responses leading to a decreased ability to fight off invaders, disease, and dysfunction.
Reducing stress is an admirable and achievable goal aimed at improving overall health and longevity – let alone boosting immune system function. You can discover this benefit by beginning a breathing or meditation practice, spending more time in nature, and actively seeking peace of mind.
Exercise, general movement, and even fairly difficult training can have positive impacts on your immune system’s ability to fight off invaders – in a clear dose-response manner. Staying active and moving often is crucial for becoming an anit-fragile human in general, but keep pushing yourself too far for too long and immune function can be suppressed, inflammation can run unchecked, and the body’s ability to recover will suffer. On a very basic level, movement is required for the circulation of lymph – the fluid that immune cells travel throughout your body in – but the connection between movement and immune health goes much further than that simple mechanism.
It Is 2020 and the consensus has arrived – resistance training is the most effective form of exercise for building lean body mass and becoming a more resilient human being overall. In light of the highly respected journal JAMA publishing an article that suggests lean body mass should be a new vital sign, we can elucidate that resistance training may just be pretty crucial for immune function. Total lean body mass is associated with positive outcomes from all sorts of disease and dysfunction, and it is associated with significantly lower mortality in certain populations, less time on ventilators in the ICU, and better respiratory outcomes as well as reduced occurrence of osteoporosis and osteopenia in patients with COPD.
We all rely on our immune system to protect us from infection and disease – yet few of us take proactive steps to support it in the fight. Most of what we need to do to support immune function are basic things that everyone already knows that they should do:
Start tackling each of these and you can quite easily begin making progress towards better immune system function. Luckily, in a time when most people are trying to sell you questionable supplements or supposed superfoods, most of what you can do to support your immune system is absolutely free and is also just generally good for you.