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The immune system protects the body. The innate immune system is made up of the skin, mucus membranes, and inflammatory response, while the adaptive immune system is made up of specific cellular responses for each pathogen.

The immune system can be helped by certain habits.

  • Eating enough nutrients. This is key to a healthy immune system. Proteins are especially important for a working immune system because they create and maintain the skin and mucosal barriers to protect against infections. They also help mount an immune defense response. Having adequate micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), fiber, and unsaturated fatty acids also helps with immunity.
  • Being up to date on vaccinations. Vaccines can help your immune system protect you from certain infections. While most people get vaccines as children, certain booster vaccines are needed periodically (Tdap, influenza, shingles) to help protect the body from future infections.
  • Getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation and altering the circadian rhythm can impact the immune system and increase the number of inflammatory cytokines circulating in the body.
  • Getting regular exercise. Studies have shown that exercise helps decrease circulatory inflammatory chemicals and enhances vaccination responses. Animal research suggest that exercise may help prevent immunosenescence, also known as the aging of the immune system.

It’s been difficult to demonstrate a link between stress levels and immune system function. But studies have shown that people with higher stress levels have decreased response to vaccinations.

Other reviews also note that people with cancer who have chronic stress show decreased immune cell function, especially in response to cancer cells.

Poor eating habits and lack of sleep can affect your immune system.

Reduced sleep and alterations in sleep rhythm can make your body more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections.

A 2015 study suggested people with short sleep duration and poor sleep continuity were more susceptible to the common cold. Research from 2012 also indicated that sleep deprivation may affect the body’s antibody response to vaccination.

A balanced diet with sufficient protein and micronutrients is essential to a well-functioning immune system.

You can find high value sources of the same in foods.

  • Eggs.
  • fish
  • Lean meat.
  • It is a type of human fat called a whey protein.

Foods with high levels of vitamins C, E, and carotenoids are found in oranges, peanut butter, and carrots.

Additionally, a diet rich in fiber is integral to gut health and immunity, while unsaturated fatty acids, especially sources of omega 3, like cod liver oil or fish, help limit inflammation.

Research doesn’t yet show clear support for adding supplements to help boost the immune system. But evidence shows that deficiencies in things like vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, folate, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 have a negative effect on the immune system.

Some studies have also advocated for using vitamin C in treating the common cold and critically ill people in intensive care units (ICUs).

The benefits of exercise go beyond cardiovascular health. Your immune system can benefit from regular physical activity.

Research from 2012 suggested daily exercise may help improve vaccination response, decrease levels of inflammatory chemicals, and increase T cell (a type of white blood cell) counts.

Findings also show that people who exercise regularly have fewer symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.

People with weakened immune systems should take precautions to protect themselves from harmful pathogens that could cause infections.

For example, avoiding raw meat and fish is one of the recommended ways to live a healthy lifestyle. Ensuring your vaccinations are up to date is important.

If you plan to participate in activities like swimming and hiking, you should talk to a doctor. You should speak with a doctor before using cannabis since it can transmit infections like aspergillus.

Dr. Elizabeth Thottacherry is an ABMS board certified internal medicine physician specializing in infectious diseases. She’s a practicing physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital.