The immune system helps protect the body from harmful pathogens and other environmental risks. It prevents various infectious and debilitating diseases. However, if a person’s immune system is weak, they are more at risk of various illnesses, including certain serious illnesses.
The immune system may be weakened by smoking, drinking alcohol, poor nutrition, stress, obesity, aging, medical conditions (such as HIV, diabetes, cancer, recent serious infections), or medication (such as steroids, chemotherapy drugs).
Signs of a weak immune system
- Frequent cold and other infections: It is normal for adults to have two to three episodes of a cold or infection a year and recover in seven to 10 days. Those with a weak immune system tend to have frequent episodes and may take longer to recover.
- Digestive problems: Many scientists believe the root cause of most diseases is a weak digestive system. Signs and symptoms of a weak immune system and digestive symptoms include frequent diarrhea, constipation, bloating, etc.
- Delayed wound healing: If the immune system is weak, wounds take longer to heal following inflammation, trauma, or surgery, and increase the risk of infection.
- Easy fatigability: It is normal to feel tired after a long day. Those with a weakened immune system tend to feel tired or fatigued constantly despite taking adequate rest.
- Skin infections: The skin is the first barrier of the body. A weak immune system can damage the skin barrier, resulting in frequent skin rashes, inflammation, infection, or dry skin.
- Autoimmune diseases: In autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells. When the immune system is weak, there is overactivity or abnormally low activity of the immune system. If the immune system is overactive, it increases the risk of autoimmune diseases.
- Delayed growth and development: Weakened immunity may result in delayed growth and development in children.
- Blood disorder and blood cancer: Some blood disorders indicate a weak immune system, such as anemia, hemophilia (bleeding disorder), blood clots, and blood cancers (leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma).
- Organ inflammation: Organ inflammation can weaken the body’s immune system. Organ inflammation could happen due to injury, toxins, pathogens, trauma, heat, etc. Any injury to the body tissues that result in inflammation is a sign of a weakened immune system.
13 Ways to strengthen the immune system
- Stress management: Managing stress plays an important role in the body’s immune health and is often overlooked. When people are psychologically stressed for a long time, there is an increase in the levels of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol, at increased levels, suppresses the cells of the immune system. Thus, increased stress decreases the body’s ability to fight infections.
- Exercise: Vigorous exercise can increase cortisol levels and suppress immunity. However, exercising in moderation can boost immunity. If a person has a busy schedule, exercising in moderation for three hours a week is sufficient to improve immunity. Weekly exercise may include brisk walking, yoga, dancing, swimming, sports, hiking, or jogging. Exercising outdoors, whenever safely possible, is found to be more beneficial than exercising indoors.
- Adequate sleep: Getting adequate sleep can help boost immunity. Adequate rest improves mood and reduces stress. Adults require an average of seven to eight hours of sleep a day.
- Adequate hydration: Staying hydrated does not directly boost the immune system but improves overall health. Drinking plenty of fluids ensures the smooth function of the kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, heart, and other organ systems. Fluids also help maintain healthy skin.
- Diet: Maintaining a healthy diet can help the immune system to be healthy.
- Whole plant foods: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants. Antioxidants decrease inflammation and reduce free radicals.
- Fruits and vegetables: They are rich in nutrients, such as vitamin C, which may reduce the duration and frequency of the common cold and other infections. Plant foods rich in fiber help maintain a healthy gut by sustaining healthy gut bacteria.
- Healthy gut bacteria: They prevent harmful microorganisms from entering the body through the gut.
- Spices: Clove, oregano, cinnamon, and cumin contain antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals (zinc, folate, iron, selenium, copper, and vitamins A, C, E, B6, and B12) improve immune health and overall health.
- Replace bad fats with good fats: Eliminating fats completely from the diet as a part of weight loss is not recommended. Fats are essential to fuel the body. Healthy fats reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system. Healthy fats are found in vegetable oils, such as olive oil. Omega-3 fatty acids present in seafood and fish oil are also good fats, which can also be taken as supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids also improve memory and improve the health of skin, hair, and nails.
- Probiotics: Probiotics are rich in healthy gut bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria protect from illness by keeping harmful microorganisms from entering the body through the gut. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods, such as yogurt. Probiotics can also be taken as supplements.
- Nutritional supplements: Zinc, folate, iron, selenium, copper, and vitamins A, C, E, B6, and B12 are beneficial as supplements if they are lacking in the diet.
- Medical treatment: Medical treatment may be required for those who have a weakened system due to other medical conditions (such as diabetes or HIV) or medication.
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WebMD. 16 Symptoms of Immune System Problems. https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/immune-system-disorders
Medline Plus. Aging changes in immunity. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004008.htm