Stop Doing These 9 Habits That Make You Sick
How many times have you cancelled plans because of an unexpected “bug” in your stomach, or because you felt just a tad under the weather? Or have you ever had some sort of infection that took forever to heal? These are some signs of a weak immune system, and you might be making things worse without realizing it.
It’s impossible to avoid every single threat to our body, which is why we have an immune system in the first place - and it does a lot more than just protect us from the flu. It fights off parasites, bacteria, fungi and viruses, and it also protects us from toxic environmental substances - things we encounter daily. Our immune system helps us live longer, too, because it attacks cancer cells and other harmful cell changes in the body.
Eating nutrient dense foods, taking immune boosters and staying active are all ways to boost immune system function, but unfortunately, many of us are unknowingly doing more harm than good. These are eight common things that weaken your immune system and what you can do about it:
ONE: LACK OF SLEEP
Are you part of the 1 in 3 Canadians who don’t get enough Zzz’s each night? One study found that your chance of getting a cold was directly linked to how much you sleep. Short sleepers are four times as likely to catch a cold! The less you sleep, the worse it gets - check out these stats:
- 7+ hrs = 17.2% chance of catching a cold when exposed to a virus
- 6 to 7hrs = 22.7%
- 5 to 6hrs = 30%
- Less than 5 hrs = 45.2%
Get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Here are some ways to fall asleep easier and faster:
- Increase bright light exposure during the day
- Reduce evening exposure to bright light & blue light in particular
- Stay cool in bed
- Don’t eat late at night
- Don’t go to bed too late (between 10-11pm is the sweet spot)
- Keep your sleep/wake routine consistent
TWO: CHRONIC STRESS & DEPRESSION
Who isn’t stressed?! There are a million ways life can throw you a curveball, and when it does, it releases the stress hormone corticosteroid (often referred to as cortisol).
When this hormone level gets higher, it suppresses the immune system by lowering our natural “killer” cells, which fight viral infections. This means we’re more likely to get really sick from viruses that normally wouldn’t be an issue.
It’s tricky, because we all have unique stressors and struggles, and we can’t exactly abandon our jobs, relationships, or responsibilities.
You need to find ways to relieve stress and depression that work for you. Exercise, meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and walking in nature (parks, forests, beaches, etc.) have all been proven to reduce stress and depression symptoms. Countless studies show that being around trees lowers blood pressure and reduces cortisol and adrenaline levels. Even looking at pictures of trees has this effect, though it’s not as powerful.
Try keeping plants around your house, too! Plants give off airborne chemicals called phytoncides, and when we breathe those in, our bodies respond by producing more “killer cells” - a type of white blood cell that kills cells infected with viruses and tumours.
THREE: LACK OF EXCERCISE
Inactivity has been proven to negatively impact immunity while also contributing to inflammation.\
Just get moving - and it doesn’t have to be intense! Regular moderate exercise (about 30 minutes per day, getting your heart rate up by 50-60%) improves immune regulation, reduces inflammation, and supports the healthy “good” gut bacteria that eats bad bacteria.
If you can, though, incorporate some resistance training into your routine by using weights, bands, or your own bodyweight. It increases and preserves muscle mass which is critical to health.
FOUR: TOO MUCH SUGAR
It’s not just bad for your teeth or your waist - sugar compromises your immunity for up to five hours after consumption! It also increases inflammation and can cause dysbiosis, a gut microbe imbalance. We’re not saying to ditch the sweets forever, but you should definitely limit them.
- Eat less than 10% of your daily calories from sugar. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s only 50 grams of sugar.
- Use natural sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit sweetener, or xylitol.
- Use L-glutamine, the amino acid supplement shown to reduce these cravings.
Studies have shown that dehydration resulted in suppressed immunity and decreased neutrophils, which are infection-fighting white blood cells. Dehydration also negatively impacts your lymphatic system (a part of your immune system), which regulates fluid balance and excretes cell waste, bacteria and viruses.
- Take a water glass or stainless steel water bottle with you everywhere you go.
- Cold water (10 - 22°C or 50 – 72 °F) hydrates faster than warmer water.
- The recommended daily intake for water is 1.5 to 2 litres, but you might need more if you’re active, pregnant, sick, or live in a hot climate.
SIX: INADEQUATE PROTEIN INTAKE
Low protein diets have been shown to increase the risk of infection and compromise immune function. Immune cells and immune signalling chemicals are made from protein and inadequate intake can hinder these.
- Eat at least 0.99 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.5 g per pound)
- If you’re active, eat 1.2 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
For example, an inactive 150lb adult would need 75g of protein per day. An active 150lb adult, however, would need 100 – 122 grams daily. If you find it challenging to meet your protein needs with whole foods, consider supplementing with plant-based protein powder or whey protein.
SEVEN: PROCESSED & FAST FOODS
Healthy fast food options do exist, but those are few and far between. We’re talking about the ones that are calorie dense yet nutrient sparse, and leave the brown paper bag all shiny! The first few bites may be satisfying, but is 10 minutes of indulgence really worth the toll on your immune system?
Most fast and processed foods contain unnaturally high levels of these common harmful substances:
SALT: One human study found that the amount of salt in just two average fast food meals was enough to result in immune deficiencies.
SUGAR: Many fast foods are very high in sugar, and for the reasons listed previously, can negatively impact immunity.
TRANS FATS: Increases CRP (C-reactive protein) levels in the blood. High levels of this inflammatory marker may result in an overly active immune system and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
OMEGA-6: High levels of this essential fat can increase inflammation and compromise immunity.
SATURATED FATS: Increase inflammation which negatively impacts immune function. Saturated fats may also trigger the immune system to attack healthy parts of the body.
ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS: Sucralose (Splenda), saccharin, and aspartame have been shown to disrupt the healthy microbial community in the gut. A whopping 70% of our immune system is in the gut, and the interplay between gut microbes and the gut is critical to healthy immune function.
CARRAGEENAN: A naturally sourced compound extracted from seaweeds and used as a food thickener and stabilizer. Carrageenan can increase inflammation and lead to insulin resistance.
PRESERVATIVES: Several common food preservatives (TBHQ & PFAS) have been shown to suppress immune function and possibly decrease vaccine efficacy.
- Eat more wholesome home-cooked meals and unprocessed foods.
- Minimizing eating at fast food establishments that we all know have questionable food choices.
- When eating processed foods, look for natural flavours and sweeteners, like stevia.
- If you’re in a rush and need some healthy snacks to buy with good nutrition, consider an All-In-One supplement.
EIGHT: INADEQUATE FIBRE INTAKE
Fibre has been shown to strengthen immunity and reduce the risk of mortality from infection and respiratory diseases. Soluble fibre also “feeds” good gut microbes that play an essential role in supporting immunity - and like we mentioned, 70% of our immune system lives in our gut! Unfortunately, though:
- 95% of the population doesn’t consume enough fibre.
- We only consume 50% of the daily fibre recommended.
Eat 25 to 28g daily, which is the recommended daily fibre intake. Choose whole vegetables, fruits and grains, and consider using a quality fibre supplement like Ultimate Daily Cleanse.
NINE: EXCESSIVE ALCOHOL & SMOKING
Yes, even e-cigarettes count as smoking! Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which interfere with our immune system, and nicotine specifically increases cortisol while reducing B-cell antibodies and T-cell response to antigens.
Vaping was found to damage vital immune system cells in the lungs and increase inflammation, so it’s not exactly a healthy alternative.
Alcohol consumption leads to the production of acetaldehyde, a compound that impairs the hair-like structures in the lungs, making them more susceptible to bacterial and viral infection. This only appears to be the case when significant quantities of alcohol are consumed for prolonged periods.
Drink in moderation and do not smoke! The amino acid glutamine may curb cravings for alcohol, and acupuncture may help kick the smoking habit.
Protecting your immune system doesn’t mean completely avoiding everything on this list forever! Maybe you’re a new parent (no sleep), live in a cold climate (no greenspace), just changed jobs (new stress), or have a physical impairment (less exercise) - the real solution is to focus on making small changes that are reasonable and sustainable for you and fit your personal lifestyle.
Remember, when your immune system is working, you won’t even know it’s there - keeping it healthy and strong allows you a certain quality of life that isn’t possible when you’re stuck at home recouping.
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Disclaimer: The information in this article has not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or Health Canada. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek competent medical advice before making any significant changes to your normal eating pattern.