The immune system is the body’s key protective system. Think of it like a model army made up of different regiments which protect you against anything which may be a threat or cause damage.
The immune system has a huge job to do as every area of the body can be threatened. There are bacteria, viruses, toxins, foods and even our own system which can cause potential harm. Take a look below to see if any of these areas of the body that are most commonly affected by low immunity and immune dysfunction apply to you. Then look at the tips to support your immune system or give it a boost
Skin. The skin is our largest protective layer, providing a barrier between you and the outside world and it’s changing all the time. When you’re dehydrated or the skin’s oil to water ratios are out of balance, you may start seeing cracks or get dry scaly skin or spots, blemishes or acne. Or if your immune system is compromised you may find that you get patches of eczema or psoriasis.
Colds and flu. This is one of the most common ways to identify if you’re run down. It could start with a sniffle, runny nose, sore muscles or itchy eyes. Before long it can turn into a massive head cold, all over body aches and create pain in swallowing.
But have you got a cold or flu or is it something else like an allergy or food intolerance? This simple table shows the basic differences between colds and flu and the associated symptoms.
|Affects||Airways, eyes||Respiratory (airways/lungs), intestinal system|
|Symptoms||Sore throat, dry cough, sneezing, blocked or runny nose, headache||Fever, tiredness, aches and pains in muscles and joints|
|Onset||Slow and steady||Rapid, can be severe|
|Lasts for||3 – 7 days||3 – 10 days|
|Complications||Future infections||Bronchitis, pneumonia|
|Spreads through||Touch of surfaces, sneezing, coughing||Touch of surfaces, person to person contact, sneezing, coughing|
Cold sores. This is where viruses come in to their own. Viruses are damaging because they don’t live independently. Instead they act as parasites penetrating and living off everything within a cell. They can easily take over a cell and use all of its components for its own use. Viruses thrive and proliferate when the immune system is compromised.
Allergies. So many people are constantly telling me that they can’t eat certain foods anymore and this really restricts their life. It’s horrible. Allergies can originate from a food that your system simply can’t tolerate. It could also be from something that if you touch it, taste or ingest it (through the skin or nasal cavity) creates a reaction in your body and then creates negative symptoms.
According to Allergy UK the most common food allergens are; eggs, milk, gluten, peanut, shellfish and soy. But allergens don’t only come from foods. It could equally be from bee venom or an insect or from a plant or common household chemicals, dust, a derivative of an animal or even medications.
When your chest and lungs become affected from an allergen which causes the restriction and swelling of the bronchioles you may find that you have asthma. But allergens also affect other areas of the body.
When the body recognises an element as something ‘foreign’ or which is not meant to be there it releases the chemical histamine. Histamine is a necessary agent for opening the vessels to allow white blood cells to quickly get to the ‘harmful invader’. However, histamine can also become overzealous, even when something quite innocuous enters the body. When this happens, it can cause a whole host of symptoms from a runny nose or itchy eyes to more severe breathing problems. That’s why you might have been advised in the past to take anti-histamines. These reduce the impact of histamine. However, at some stage to improve your overall healthy you still need to support and develop a well-functioning immune system.
Thrush or candida. This is a common problem caused by the fungal overgrowth of candida albicans. This can affect the whole gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) so you may notice signs of a thick film on your tongue. Or you may have itching and swelling around the vagina area, in addition to a thick discharge.
Candida is always present in our systems and it’s not a problem, until it over populates. This is a clear sign of a weakened immune system. Candida is able to hook on to the cell wall receptors that would normally be used by healthy bacteria and then imbed itself into the cell. When this happens, it can disrupt healthy cell functioning causing a reduction in energy and disruption to protein production. Candida does not simply go away on its own.
Athletes foot. This is another painful fungal infection usually found in between the toes. It forms blisters, cuts and cracks and there may also be itching and peeling of skin around the feet. Fungus thrive in wet, damp and warm areas, so from a practical perspective, keeping the feet dry and well ventilated may help the proliferation, but the fungus will also need to be addressed directly to eradicate it. And again, it’s important to make sure your immune system is healthy to support the eradication.
UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections). UTIs are extremely common and are caused by bacteria entering the urethra (the tube which removes urine from the bladder). These can be excruciating, go on for a long time and literally make people wonder whether they’re going a little crazy. If this happens it may be painful for you to pass urine and you may feel unusually tired and drained. It’s important (despite the pain) to stay hydrated in order to help flush out your urinary system.
The gut. Painful problems such as IBS, chronic inflammation, candida, gas, nausea and diarrhoea are all indications that your gut immunity may be low. It’s not surprising because it’s estimated that 70% of immunity is centred in this complex ecosystem. The gut consists of many miniscule skin layers covered in mucus which are able to trap unhealthy bacteria. When these bacteria are contained in this static environment it allows them to be more easily presented to the immune army. They can then in effect be neutralised or eradicated and this then prevents them from entering into the blood stream.
Many issues from allergies to headaches, hives and skin problems are created when unhealthy bacteria get into the blood stream. So, in all call cases it’s always a good idea to start looking at what’s happening with your gut.
Antibiotics. Long-term use of antibiotics has been shown to lower the levels of healthy bacteria in the gut. This can cause problems as healthy bacteria have been shown to be essential in breaking down foods and lowering inflammation. They also support healthy inflammatory responses and lessen the prevalence of unhealthy bacteria.
Inflammation. Whilst, it does not always appear to be the case, inflammation is a protective measure. One of it’s main purposes it to support damaged tissue by surrounding it and insulating it from further damage. But, if inflammation is excessive, it can cause irritation and even damage the body’s own tissue. In severe cases the body’s inflammatory response may create an auto-immunity condition. When this happens, the body falsely recognises its own tissue as ‘foreign’ or sees it as something which is not meant to be there and then tries to eradicate it by attacking it (see below).
Autoimmune disease. This seems such a strange thing. This is where the immune system becomes hyper vigilant and misreads your own body tissue as ‘foreign’ and dangerous. Because of this, the immune system treats your tissue as it would any other danger or invader and attacks it. It could result in hypothyroidism (affecting the thyroid), lupus (tissue all over the body), rheumatoid arthritis (the joints), ulcerative colitis (the bowel), Crohn’s disease (the bowel) or psoriasis (the skin). In some cases, regulating health immune function may assist in easing these symptoms.
What type of immune dysfunctions are there? That’s such a good question. The information above was quite a lot to take in and by reading it you may think that immunity is a uniform thing. However, the immune system is not a one type, blanketed system. It can be over zealous, resulting in autoimmunity. Or it could be under functioning, or it could, at different times, simply be temporarily compromised.
So, what can you do to support your immune system?
Be dirty. That may sound strange, and I’m not saying, never wash your hands. But it’s important to know that the body learns and develops through understanding what is beneficial and what is going to allow it to survive, but also what threatens it. A number of theorists argue that by constantly using hand sanitisers, cleaning fluids and bacterial blockers that it actually weakens our immune system. The reason being that we prevent our systems from being exposed to and interacting with the bacteria and pathogens which when developed can really threaten us. Conversely, by exposing ourselves, to dirt, dust or other ‘potentially’ noxious material in small amounts our immune system is able to affectively recognise, develop and strengthen itself against these things.
Simplify. Sometimes the body can no longer function with the masses of things that we put in and on it. Overeating, excessive drinking, using strong cleaning products, make up and deodorants that block your pours, as well as running on empty all challenge the immune system. Take a look at what you’re using. Is it all absolutely necessary? Could you make any small changes?
Reduce stress. The protective proteins that bind to harmful bacteria to either present it to be eradicated or which have the ability to eradicate it, can become severely compromised when a person is chronically stressed. One such protein (or immunoglobin A (IgA) which we find in bodily fluids such as saliva, mucus and tears) is particularly vulnerable. When it stops functioning properly instead of creating the sticky fluid that can bind to a harmful invader, it stops functioning effectively allowing the invader to thrive.
Remember, anything that takes your body over and above what it can cope with can be a stressor. So even exercising when your energy is low or eating sugary foods, especially when you’re run down can be a stressor. These can actually make things much much worse.
Watch how you cook. Eating burnt food or cooking with oils that burn at high rates, such as olive oil which can then become toxic present problems for the body. Also, beware of food that may have gone bad, particularly meat and fish and even potatoes that are green or have started sprouting. These can cause digestive problems, especially if your gut immunity is low.
Put in the good. There are always things that you can do to support your immune system.
Vitamin A. This maintains the cells of the respiratory (lungs/airways) and gastro-intestinal tract (food canal) and also moistens the lining of our respiratory and gastro-intestinal tract.
It is found in – Fish, egg yolks, butter, offal (liver), fortified milk (will advise on the label).
Carotenoids (which make Vitamin A) It is found in – Dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, peppers, broccoli, carrots, dried apricots, prunes, kale, parsley, spinach, squash, watercress.
Vitamin C. This protects our cells, promotes healing and creates a healthy immune system. It also helps the body to absorb iron from foods.
It is found in – Citrus fruits (grapefruit, lemon, oranges) and juices. Broccoli, dark-green leafy vegetables, cabbage, watercress, red peppers, strawberries and kiwi fruit. **Be aware that cooking can deplete its viability.
Vitamin E. This helps to protect our outer cell membranes and fight disease. It supports any molecules that are particularly unstable and so is able to maintain a healthy immune system.
It is found in – Sunflower seeds, almonds, pecans, peanut, sesame and corn oil, butter, spinach, brown rice, wheatgerm, whole wheat bread.
Copper. This helps the body to use its stores of iron and plays a vital role in maintaining immunity.
It is found in – Shellfish, offal, whole grains, nuts and seeds, peas, avocados, radishes, garlic, mushrooms. Be careful though ** High doses of copper can interfere with zinc absorption.
Zinc. There’s no part of the body that doesn’t really benefit from zinc. It’s a key constituent in cell growth, immunity, taste, smell, wound healing and respiratory health.
It is found in – Lentils, peas, whole wheat bread, liver, pork, beef and wheatgerm.
Remember that this ISN’T about ignoring the severity of symptoms and not going to the GP. Go! But, if you want additional support and guidance in using nutrition and stress management to boost your immune system, then contact me.
You can start with a FREE 30-minute consultation to assess your needs or go straight in to booking a programme which will provide you with support on a regular basis.