While most people don’t typically spend a large amount of time during their day thinking about the immune system, the COVID-19 pandemic, if anything, has shown perhaps it's something we should focus on more frequently.
A healthy immune system is essential, and what was once something you may have only thought about during cold and flu seasons, likely deserves a bit more attention.
After all, the immune system does more than just keep us from getting sick. A properly functioning immune system protects the body from things like bacteria, viruses, fungi and even parasites. This includes taking action to ensure you don’t get sick to begin with, but the immune system also deals with these harmful invaders should they manage to get in.
In this article, we will discuss an overview of the human immune system and provide tips for how you optimize the performance of your immune system and potentially protect yourself from the coronavirus.
Understanding the immune system
The immune system is complex. It is made up of a vast network of cells and other organs that protect the body from infection. These cells and organs include the lymph nodes and vessels, the spleen, bone marrow, adenoids and tonsils, blood vessels, Peyer’s patches and the thymus.
While the overall goal of this system is simple, to prevent or limit infection, how your immune system goes about it is not. In a properly functioning immune system, there are two main parts: the innate (non-specific) immune system and the adaptive (specific) immune system.
The innate immune system serves as your body’s first line of defense against harmful germs and substances, while the adaptive immune system creates the antibodies that are needed to fight germs, specifically ones it has already come into contact with. The adaptive immune system is constantly changing, allowing it to adjust its response to new bacteria and viruses over time, like the coronavirus.
Your immune system can recognize and distinguish between what are normal, healthy and harmful cells, like bacteria or viruses. In a properly functioning immune system, when an unhealthy cell is recognized, it triggers an immune system response. Having a properly functioning immune system can improve the speed and effectiveness of that response.
Leading signs of a suppressed or weakened immune system
Due to the complex nature of the human immune system, each person’s symptoms may vary. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms common with a weakened immune system, it may be a good idea to schedule a visit with a healthcare professional.
- Cold extremities (hands, fingers, toes, ears and nose) due to inflamed blood vessels
- Chronic or long-lasting diarrhea that lasts longer than four weeks
- Consistently dry eyes
- Extreme fatigue that does not improve with sleep
- Mild fever
- Frequent headaches
- Lingering rash without an obvious cause
- Persistent aching body and joints
- Sudden hair loss
- Repeated infections or infections that don't seem to heal normally
While any of these symptoms could be cause for concern, the good news is the immune system can be improved with proper care, and the symptoms you are experiencing can be reduced.
What you can do to make your immune system run more efficiently
You may not be currently experiencing symptoms, but making sure your immune system is running at an optimum level during the COVID-19 pandemic is something everyone should care about.
Whether it's cold and flu season or you are going to be around a large group of people, which increases your chances of being exposed to germs or bacteria, boosting your immune system can help keep you protected. Here are a few things you can do to potentially improve your immune system.
Begin taking a daily supplement: Zinc, selenium and vitamin D are best known for their immune system boosting properties. In fact, many studies show that zinc can even help reduce the duration of the common cold if taken within 24 hours of your initial symptoms. Before you take any supplement, be sure to speak to a physician, follow the directions on the bottle and take only in moderation.
Focus on nutrition and eat plenty of whole plant foods: A healthy immune system needs plenty of nutrients and vitamins, in particular:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
A healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables should keep you covered. Generally, it is a good idea to avoid processed foods that are high in sugar or unhealthy fats.
Drink a healthy amount of water daily: Water is essential to ensure most systems in the body remain functioning properly. After all, the body contains up to 60% water. For the immune system, water is also helpful in flushing toxins from vital organs and it helps build muscles by carrying more oxygen to cells.
Get the recommended amount of sleep: Getting the proper amount of sleep is essential for many of the body's essential processes to run efficiently. Getting the much needed rest can strengthen your natural immunity and also allows your immune system to better fight the illness should they occur.
Long-term lifestyle changes to ensure you immune system is in tip-top shape
While boosting the immune system during the COVID-19 pandemic is important, making sure your immune system is functioning properly long-term may be even more essential. Below are a few changes you can make to your daily life to increase your odds of sustaining a healthy body over the long haul.
- Avoid smoking
- Maintain a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Keep yourself at a healthy weight and exercise regularly
- If you are going to drink alcohol, drink only in moderation
- Try to minimize stress when possible
- Get the recommended amount of sleep nightly (seven to nine hours for average adults)
- Avoid isolation and maintain a good social network
What you should know about immune system disorders
If you are generally practicing all the suggestions above, but still experiencing symptoms of a suppressed immune system, then it might be a good time to discuss the potential for an immune system disorder with your provider. Immune system disorders typically fall into three categories:
This occurs when one or more parts of the immune system are not functioning properly. There are many causes for this, but the most common are old age, obesity and alcoholism. Genetics can also be a factor.
- Autoimmune disorders
When functioning properly, the immune system only responds to harmful microorganisms, like viruses and bacteria. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system malfunctions and mistakenly attacks normal human cells.
Common autoimmune disorders include celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Graves’ disease, chronic Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia.
Hypersensitivity: Hypersensitivity is when the immune system produces an overly exaggerated response to what is normally a harmless substance. Hypersensitivity is typically seen as benign, and you may recognize it as an allergic reaction.
Although normally not severe, some of these reactions can cause a life-threatening anaphylactic response to something as common as peanuts or bee stings.
While knowing the signs and symptoms of a suppressed immune system are important, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, you should speak to a healthcare professional.
Visiting CareNow® is a great way to sort through what may be a temporary problem or determine if it is something that needs to be taken more seriously.
At CareNow®, we have qualified physicians and nurses ready to help. With more than 100 locations nationwide, you can schedule your appointment today and be seen quickly. We welcome walk-in patients, but also offer a Web Check-In® option allowing you to check-in for a visit from the comfort of your home.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.