What Affects Your Immune System?
Image courtesy of Karl Loren
I came across this article awhile back: What Does And Doesn’t Affect Immune System.
Scientists know that a number of factors can affect the body’s immune system: poor diet, certain steroids, chronic stress. Now researchers at Michigan State University have discovered that an appetite-controlling hormone also affects the immune system, while natural versions of certain steroids do not.
A poor diet is one of the biggest factors that affects your immune system. Given the diet of the average US citizen, it’s no wonder so many people are sick all the time. Too much sugar, too many refined carbs, too few fruits and vegetables, too few omega-3 fatty acids, too many inflammatory omega-6s, the list goes on. Sugar is immunosuppressive. Lack of vital vitamins and minerals is immunosuppressive. A poor omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is immunosuppressive. Is it any wonder that sick is “normal” in our society?
Add in chronic stress from our overly busy lifestyles and you have a recipe for disaster. Hour-plus commutes to work, 10-hour work days at stressful desk jobs, running between kids’ practices, and trying to find time to get a “home-cooked” meal on the table fill our days to the point that we barely have time to breathe. Stress was an acute stressor in the days of our ancestors, generating a fight-or-flight response and causing a short-lived rise in cortisol. Today, cortisol stays raised due to our constantly stress-filled environment. Cortisol is an immune suppressor.
Lack of sleep is another immune suppressor. Pretty much everything the average person does is an immune suppressor. And on the opposite end of the spectrum are the aerobicisers that deplete their immune system with too much exercise and “carbing up”. While trying to do the right thing, they inadvertently suppress the immune system. Few of your fellow citizens are living a life that keeps their immune system purring along happily.
So what’s the new thing that affects the immune system?
One MSU research team discovered that leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells, supports white blood cell production in the body, enhancing immune function. …. “It appears that most obese people may be somewhat immunosuppressed.”
So along with affecting hunger levels and metabolism, leptin also has an effect on the immune system and being obese typically means being leptin-resistant. That means that losing weight is an important factor in having a strong immune system. To see if this effect in mice carries over to humans, the study authors are planning a study in morbidly obese patients undergoing gastric bypass to look at healing and mortality.
The 4 Pillars of Health
Keeping your immune system in tip-top shape is really a rather simple proposition. Consider a stool with four legs; for simplicity, we’ll just call them Nutrition, Rest, Stress, and Toxins. In terms of nutrition, we know that eating in line with our evolutionary heritage is best for health. That means meat, eggs, seafood, green leafy things, vegetables, and some fruit, nuts, squashes, and tubers. Rest just means getting enough sleep and relaxation. You can’t be revved up 24-hours a day and expect to stay on top of the Immunity Game. The body is geared to sleep when it’s dark and wake up when it’s not. That too is part of our evolutionary heritage.
Stress is an unfortunate part of our modern civilization. Relationships, work, kids, and a full schedule all conspire to keep our adrenaline pumping and our bodies stressed to the max. It must be managed. Sleep and relaxation will help. Finding ways to get out into nature, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life is another way. Simply turning off the TV (the media loves to keep you stressed), the computer, and the cell phone for a day is a method of stress management.
And then there’s Toxins. This one is tougher to control, but pollution will work to keep your immune system from being fully operational. We could also lumping in other self-inflicted toxins here, such as PFOAs and phthalates that leach into food and water. I suppose we could add in some of the things that are in your food like antibiotics, growth hormones, and pesticides, though those would probably just as easily fall under nutrition. Regardless, you get the point.
So back to the four-legged stool…you can sit on a stool that’s missing a leg. If you’re good, you may be able to stay upright on a stool with two legs missing, though it’s going to take lots of work and the likelihood is that you’re going to fall over eventually. If you’re missing three legs on that stool, you better be a trapeze artist to stay seated. The reality is that most of us are missing a little something here or a little something there. Perhaps your diet is in top order, but you don’t sleep enough. Or you’re stressed, but you get 8-9 hours of sleep each night, eat clean, and avoid toxins as much as you can. So long as you keep three out of four of these “legs” in good shape most of the time, you’re probably going to be just fine and avoid most illnesses that come your way.
A really fun thought though is how all of these are joined together in an intricate dance. For instance, we know that lack of sleep influences a hormonal drive to eat the wrong foods. Stress tends to push one to eat the wrong stuff too. Who goes on a broccoli binge? And of course eating the wrong foods constantly is bound to make you feel bad which will likely affect your sleep and increase your stress levels. An environment full of Toxins makes it more important that the other areas are shored up to keep you well; for all we know, certain environmental toxins may affect sleep and eating habits. You have to truly take a holistic approach to things because the body is not just a bunch of unconnected systems.