We’ve been hearing on the news a lot about people with “compromised immune systems” being at greater risk of contracting unwelcomed viruses. What does “compromised” actually mean except that you’re more susceptible to getting sick?
The immune system is defined as a complex network of cells, tissues, organs and the substances they make that help the body fight infections and other diseases; it includes white blood cells and organs and tissues of the lymph system, such as the thymus, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes, lymph vessels and bone marrow.
In this article, we’ll explore what it means to have a strong immune system, how it evolves throughout life, and how to boost your immune system to promote overall health.
What is a Strong Immune System?
A strong immune system has both powerful adaptive and innate immunity; both work together to protect the self from foreign invaders. Living a healthy lifestyle boosts the immune system in many ways that we’ll explore later on in this article.
Typically people between the ages of 10 and 50 will have stronger immune systems when compared with infants and the elderly. Other factors that contribute to having a strong immune system include lower stress and getting a good night’s sleep.
In one study that tracked elderly people in Taiwan, 639 blood samples were taken to measure the levels of self-reactive antibodies, which are antibodies that are capable of fighting your own tissues. Interestingly, the researchers discovered that people with these antibodies seemed to live longer and had a 33% lower chance of dying that year. The downside is that these antibodies are the same ones implicated in autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. In either case, however, it validates how important our immune response is to our overall health.
In summary, people who suffer from autoimmune disease are said to have powerful immune systems, which, in one respect appears to provide greater protection from parasites, but may make people more susceptible to other diseases.
Related: Probiotics for Immune Support
7 Stages of Life (Changing Immunity)
The immune system changes over our lifetimes. The seven stages of a man’s life derived from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, paint an interesting picture of life. Each “act” offers different levels of immunity from disease.
"And one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven stages." -William Shakespeare
Here are the seven stages of man, as explained by Shakespeare, and how the immune system develops over time:
- Helpless infant (weak immune system)
- The whining schoolboy (developing immune system)
- The emotional lover (strong immune system)
- The devoted soldier (strong immune system)
- The wise judge (good immune system)
- The old man still in control of his faculties (weak immune system)
- Extremely aged (weak immune system)
In some aspects, the immune system of the elderly resembles that of the newborn due to reduced antimicrobial activity by neutrophils and macrophages, and somewhat compromised adaptive lymphocyte responses. Therefore, both the very young and old immune systems are similarly compromised in coping with a typical viral infection. Also, the evolution of the immune system appears to protect the young adult by providing optimal immune responses during procreative years.
Learn More: 9 Ways to Strengthen Children's Immune Systems
What if Your Immune System is Too Strong?
There are some conditions where an immune system can get too strong. For example, allergies, asthma or eczema can occur if an immune system is too strong. Autoimmune disease is also thought to happen due to an overactive immune system.
Healthy lifestyle habits cannot make your immune system too strong. Normally immune systems that fight themselves are due to genetic factors in the innate immune system.
Weak Immune System Testing
An immune system might be considered “weak” due to a person’s age or if someone is health-compromised from a medical issue or if taking medication that lowers the immue response. Also, in situations that can be controlled, poor lifestyle choices, like drinking too much alcohol can result in a weakened immune system.
A blood test can determine how well an immune system is functioning by looking at levels of immunoglobulins, for example, which are proteins that fight infection. The test will also compare your levels of white blood cells and red blood cells to detect any possible weakness in your immune system.
3 Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System
We all know that exercise is good for us. Increased overall fitness can boost the immune system, in turn, fighting off colds and infections. In a year-long study, published in the American Journal of Medicine, researchers found that walking for half an hour a day can cut your chances of getting a cold in half.
Exercising increases white blood cell count, specifically T-cells that are essential immune-boosting cells. It’s important to note that exercising is a preventative measure. It can be too taxing on your body to exercise when you have an infection. Another study showed that one hour of brisk walking a week can protect you from disability.
2. Immune System Boosting Foods
The foods that we eat impact our health immensely. To boost your immune system, try incorporating some of these ten immune system boosting foods:
- Bell Pepper
- Dark Chocolate
- Oily fish
- Broccoli (especially broccoli sprouts)
- Sweet Potato
3. Nutrients to Boost the Immune System
- Vitamin A – is used throughout the body and promotes a healthy immune system. Sources of vitamin A include sweet potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, algae, and cod liver oil.
- Vitamin C – can help support cellular functions needed by the immune system, especially waste removal from the body. Sources of vitamin C include oranges, orange juice, broccoli, tomatoes, kiwi fruit, and red bell peppers.
- Vitamin D – powers up your cells and gives them the ability to fight disease. Vitamin D should come from sunlight and fortified foods, but supplements are advised during the winter months. Learn More: Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?
- Zinc – plays a central role in the immune system, including protection against pathogens. Zinc is also an antioxidant that can help balance cells. Sources of zinc include seafood, chickpeas, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
- Probiotics -- Two strains called Lactobacillus delbrueckii LE and Lactobacillus rhamnosus LB3 work synergistically in combination to support otolaryngeal health and overall immunity. Clinical testing was performed in the Hospital of Institute of Otolaryngology Academy of Medical Sciences, Kiev, 2002-2006, for State Program “New Probiotics for Otolaryngology”. Strains of L. delbrueckii LE and L. rhamnosus LB3, as well as combination blends, were found to demonstrate high levels of antagonistic activity towards the microbes most frequently found in chronic and recurrent ENT infections.
The Bottom Line
Your immune system develops over time and adapts to your environment. There are many lifestyle choices that can be made that help to boost your immune system, such as eating a diet rich in whole foods and getting enough exercise. In addition, a number of nutrients are especially good at promoting a healthy immune system, such as zinc, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C and target-specific probiotics.
Related Biotics Research Products: