The immune system is a body wide, complex network of many cells, proteins and enzymes. The purpose of the immune system is to protect the body against invading infections and ensure all the cells in our body stay healthy. Essentially, the health of our immune system dictates our overall health.
When any part of the complex network that is the immune system is compromised, we see a subsequent decrease in overall health. In the short term, we can become more susceptible to infections, like the common cold, flu or upper respiratory tract infections. In the long-term, a weakened immune system increases risk for chronic conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The Average Immune System
According to research, 70% of people in North America have suboptimal immune function due to food choices, underlying viral infections, chemicals in the environment and alcohol use. The immune system is also highly sensitive to stress.
How do we assess the function of the immune system? We can test individual cells in the immune system, namely the white blood cells. When levels are low or high of a particular immune cell it’s indicative that there is an infection of some nature in the body.
This is helpful- although it doesn’t tell us the whole story. It doesn’t tell us the ability of the immune system to resist infection and it doesnt tell us the quality of immune cell. It also does not test the health of other healths in the body- which would give us an idea of overall immune function. Although there are many indicators, there’s no conclusive test to observe the overall health of our immune system.
Here are some practitioner vetted indications to help you holistically evaluate your general immune function!
6 Signs Your Immune System Needs Support
- Frequent Cold Sores
Cold sores become activated when the virus that lives in our nerves “wakes up”. This means that the immune system isn’t able to keep them dormant- and is an indication that the immune system needs some extra help.
- Less than 1 Bowel Movement a Day
80% of the immune system is located in the gut. When constipation is part of the picture as is indicated by less than one bowel movement a day, we know the microbes that live in the gut and make up the immune system are compromised.
- Recurrent/ Chronic UTIs
UTIs are generally caused by a bacteria that lives in all of us. When these bacteria proliferate at a high rate in an on-going fashion it shows that the immune system is unable to keep the bacteria under control. This is something an adequately functioning immune system is able to do. The occasional UTI is no problem, however the immune system should eradicate a UTI before painful symptoms show up.
- Waking up During the Night
The immune system regenerates and repairs during deep sleep. When sleep is compromised, the immune system doesn’t have the space to produce new cells and enzymes in amounts that are conducive to health.
- More than 2 colds/flus a year
The body is exposed to thousands of bacteria and viruses a day, and most of the time we never know it because our immune system either a) doesn’t let them in or b) kills them straight away. Sometimes, the body fails and we can get a cold or a flu- these are a relatively rare occurrence when the immune system is healthy. Any more than 2 a year is indicative that the immune system needs some support!
- Chronic infections
H.pylori, candida, parasites and fungal infections that keep occurring are the body saying that the immune system cannot keep up. These are generally what we call opportunistic organisms- meaning they multiply when the immune system is weakened.
For now- here are our favorite lifestyle modifications:
1. Optimize your sleep routine.
Fragmented sleep can suppress the immune system. The is is because the immune system regenerates during sleep but also because sleep deprivation can cause a 21% increase in cortisol- the stress hormone that harms immune cells
- Reduce Sugar
Sugar is the food source for the bad bacteria in the gut, and kills the good guys. Since 80% of our immune system is in the gut- simply reducing sugar can provide a profound improvement on immune health.
- Get Outside!
Nature is full of immune benefits. The sun provides Vitamin D- a key hormone needed in several aspects of immunity. Trees actually give off antiviral compounds that we breath in, and walking barefoot on the earth has been shown to increase internal antioxidant status! Our favorite way to get some TLC from nature? Grabbing a book or podcast, and sitting by a tree or the water with our feet on the ground for 10-20 minutes. Bonus: Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress as well!
If you experience any of these, it’s not to worry. The immune system, like the rest of the body, is incredibly resilient. Given the right environment and nutrients, this complex network can begin to regulate itself allowing you to be your healthiest self!Author: Lisa Kowalyk, CNP, B.Kin