10 ways to wreck your immune system

10 ways to wreck your immune system

10 ways to wreck your immune system

It’s winter here in Australia and supporting your immune system is one of the hottest topics this season! In winter the incidence of viruses increases and the focus on immune support becomes strong, outside of the winter months it can be easy to forget the importance of a strong immune system to ensure your body is functioning optimally all year round. What could you be doing during winter, or all year round, that is impacting the strength of your immune system?

1. Consume refined sugars

Sugar is bad for you (no shock there!). It rots your teeth, increases the risk of diabetes and when consumed in large amounts outside of a balanced diet may contribute to weight gain. The key is, don't eat too much of the stuff. An occasional treat can be fine for most people when consumed as part of whole fruit, but eating sweet snacks and drinks can flatten your immune system. A little bit is fine, but too much is a disaster for your immunity. [1]

2. Have a diet high in salt

Including salt in the diet is important as sodium and chloride ions are essential for the body to function. Without them, you will die. Unfortunately, the western diet is usually too high in salt therefore, most of us are trying to reduce our sodium levels. Too much sodium in the diet on a daily basis can lead to autoimmune diseases and is a common contributor to the rising incidence of many diseases. [2]

3. Go through a winter

Winter is crappy for most people. It is cold, grey, and wet. Yuck. Your nose runs, your fingers get cold and it makes getting to the gym at 5 am a tough ask. Winter is also terrible for colds and the flu. Temperature is a key driver of most biological processes which is why it may not surprise you that cold weather depletes cellular immunity. [3] We have no foolproof solution here as not leaving the house is not the best tactic for your mental, physical and emotional health. When possible stay warm and practice general hygiene such as washing hands, avoiding coughing on people, and being coughed on.

4. Only have one X chromosome

I mean, there is nothing you can do about this, but it is interesting to know that only having one X chromosome is not the best for your immune system. However; only having one X chromosome (like us men) means we get less autoimmune diseases. Women (having two X chromosomes) provide a more potent immune response. [4]

5. Being male and getting a flu

Because we mere males only have one X chromosome, when we get the flu, we get the man flu! Also, women enjoy higher levels of the potent hormone estradiol. Animal studies have found that estradiol helps boost the immune system in several ways, which may benefit women when they get the dreaded flu. [5]

6. Not taking your zinc and having sex

Like most nutrients essential for your body, zinc plays numerous roles throughout the body. We need to ingest it daily to keep our health-boosting zinc levels in check. Zinc is an amazingly beneficial nutrient for the immune system. [6] If you are taking a multivitamin, there may be some in there, but is that enough? People need different levels of zinc and some people lose more zinc daily. For example, men can lose over 1.4mg per ml of sperm (up to 8mg in total per ejaculation). [7] 8mg is a lot! So, if you are younger and more active in this area, you could be having sex and suppressing your immune system. And remember, men, don't have the greatest immune system to start with!

7. Stress yourself out

Stress is good! You heard that right. Without stress, it would have made for an interesting time in our evolutional progress. When we were not at the top of the food chain, 'just relaxing' close to a pride of hungry lions would have ended badly for our ancestors. Stress was and still is needed to fight and run from danger.

Physical activity when going to the gym can also add stress to your daily load! So can running and most exercises, but this can be good stress. Problems arise when stress becomes chronic/long-term. Ongoing stress such as meeting your mortgage payments, and meeting work deadlines while also trying to meet your and your family's needs on every level is a new type of stress for humans in this modern age, we never had a mortgage on the cave all those years ago. ongoing stressors in your day can wreak havoc on your body and your immune system. Sitting down and taking stock of life's challenges and what makes us happy is important to minimise bad stress when possible and aim to maximise good stress or relaxation time. [8]

8. Not getting enough sunlight

Our nearest star, our sun, is a classic double-edged sword. Sure, without it, the world would freeze, all the plants on earth will die, and we would closely follow. The sun gives us life and will do so for a few more billion years. However; excessive exposure to the sun can lead to skin cancers. Melanoma, the most dangerous skin cancer is the most common skin cancer found in young people. [9] Interestingly, vitamin D, which is essential for our bodies and immune systems, is made from cholesterol when the UV rays from the sun hit our skin directly. Research has found that vitamin D is a key nutrient for the immune system so if you want to avoid the sun, it is worth ensuring you are eating or supplementing your vitamin D. [10]

9. When you get sick, not seeking support from Andrographis

Let’s say for a second you have stopped stressing, you are getting some daily sun exposure, eating plenty of zinc, and reducing your sugar intake…you will still get an infection of some sort eventually. This is part of life. The question is what do you do if you get a cold or the flu? Antibiotics are not indicated for viral infections and both colds and flu are viruses. The best way to tackle these nasties is to kick your immune system into gear so that it can adapt to the bug, and one of the most potent ways to boost your immune system is to seek out Andrographis. [11]

10. Forgetting about the power of Reishi Mushroom

Mushrooms can either kill you (if you eat the wrong ones) or have fantastic healing properties. One of the most famous healthy mushrooms is Reishi. When out shopping, keep an eye out for this amazing plant and add it to your salad or steamed veggies. Reishi has been traditionally used in Chinese medicine to boost immunity as well as ward off numerous diseases in the body. [12]


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[5] Sue K. The science behind “man flu” BMJ 2017; 359 :j5560 doi:10.1136/bmj.j5560

[6] Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 25;9(12):1286. doi: 10.3390/nu9121286. PMID: 29186856; PMCID: PMC5748737.

[7] Canale D, Bartelloni M, Negroni A, Meschini P, Izzo PL, Bianchi B, Menchini-Fabris GF. Zinc in human semen. Int J Androl. 1986 Dec;9(6):477-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2605.1986.tb00909.x. PMID: 3570537.

[8] Dhabhar FS. Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Immunol Res. 2014 May;58(2-3):193-210. doi: 10.1007/s12026-014-8517-0. PMID: 24798553.

[9] Raimondi S, Suppa M, Gandini S. Melanoma Epidemiology and Sun Exposure. Acta Derm Venereol. 2020 Jun 3;100(11):adv00136. doi: 10.2340/00015555-3491. PMID: 32346751.

[10] Ao T, Kikuta J, Ishii M. The Effects of Vitamin D on Immune System and Inflammatory Diseases. Biomolecules. 2021 Nov 3;11(11):1624. doi: 10.3390/biom11111624. PMID: 34827621; PMCID: PMC8615708.

[11] Dai Y, Chen SR, Chai L, Zhao J, Wang Y, Wang Y. Overview of pharmacological activities of Andrographis paniculata and its major compound andrographolide. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(sup1):S17-S29. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2018.1501657. Epub 2018 Sep 10. PMID: 30040451.

[12] Wang X, Lin Z. Immunomodulating Effect of Ganoderma (Lingzhi) and Possible Mechanism. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2019;1182:1-37. doi: 10.1007/978-981-32-9421-9_1. PMID: 31777013.