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Do’s & Don’ts for a Healthy Immune System

With the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, many people are concerned about staying healthy and maintaining a healthy immune system. Doing so can benefit your body and boost your defenses against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. In this article we outline the “Don’t” and “Do’s” of boasting your immune system to help your body stay strong to fight off infections.

DON’T:

 

Excessively drink alcohol

The occasional drink may be needed to manage some of lifes’ stresses, it is important to refrain from excessive alcohol consumption for a healthy immune system. Studies have shown that excessive alcohol consumption may lead to altered immune regulation [1,2].

 

Smoking  

While this may be an obvious statement, the effects of smoking can not only impact on your respiratory and cardiovascular systems, but also contribute to a weakened immune system. Studies show that nicotine is an immuno-suppressive agent which hinders the body’s immune responses [3,4].

 

Drink high amounts of caffeine

Now may be a great time to go on a caffeine cleanse. Not only has caffeine and coffee been shown to increase blood pressure and headaches, but there is also a strong link between caffeine and anxiety (especially in those that already have anxiety related disorders) [5,6,7]. So why not replace your morning cup of coffee with a nice replenishing glass of water?

 

Stress out

When we are stressed out our bodies release a stress hormone called cortisol. High levels of cortisol may lead to not only a weakened immune system, but it has also been linked to weight gain, digestive issues, brain fog and heart problems[8,9]. Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try some of our following tips as well asbelly breathing or “mindfulness [10]. 

 

DO:

Get adequate sleep  

Ensuring you are getting a good night’s sleep plays a role in your body’s immune system. As we sleep, our central nervous system communicates by the production of cytokines (a protein that targets infection and inflammation). When we get inadequate sleep, our immune cells are impacted, leading to a compromised immune system [11]. The recommended length of sleep varies depending on age, but is recommended between 7-9 hours for adults [12].

 

Move your body

Making sure we stay active throughout the lockdown period is important as exercise has been shown to boost energy levels, mental health and promotes healthy circulation. This however, doesn’t mean you should start a strenuous exercise regime as studies show that an excessive amount of physical exertion may be detrimental to one’s immune system. Although mild to moderate levels of activity have been shown to have many health benefits, including fewer infections [13,14].  With that in mind, move your body within your tolerance.

 

Be social (from home)

Studies have shown that individuals who are more socially connected have a higher level of immune function compared to those who are not [15]. During these difficult times, we obviously cannot socialise in the way we know how, however, virtual socialization is a new concept that is helping the world stay connected to their loved ones. Some ways you can socialise may be through facetime, zoom, skype, email or even the old-fashioned phone.

 

Eat nourishing foods 

During this time, we may be tempted to reach for comfort foods and develop bad snacking habits on less than ideal foods, however, it is important to maintain a balanced diet enriched with key vitamins and minerals to support healthy immune function. Studies show that sugar and alcohol impact your immune function as sugars reduce the activity of  immune cells (neutrophils) and alcohol deprives our bodies’ of B vitamins which help maintain a healthy immune system [16,17,18]. Some ways to keep your diet on track are to make a daily meal plan, schedule in your meals and snacks and avoid buying excessive amounts of treats that may tempt you.

 

Taking steps to improve your lifestyle in a way that will strengthen your immune system doesn’t mean this will stop you from getting sick. However, it’s important to focus on what you do have control over during this time.

And finally, stay calm and be kind to others. We are all in this together!

References:
(1) Cook R. Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism, and Damage to the Immune System—A Review. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 1998;22(9):1927-1942.
(2) Trevejo-Nunez G, Chen K, Dufour J, Bagby G, Horne W, Nelson S et al. Ethanol Impairs Mucosal Immunity against Streptococcus pneumoniae Infection by Disrupting Interleukin 17 Gene Expression. Infection and Immunity. 2015;83(5):2082-2088.
(3) Qiu F, Liang C, Liu H, Zeng Y, Hou S, Huang S et al. Impacts of cigarette smoking on immune responsiveness: Up and down or upside down?. Oncotarget. 2016;8(1).
(4) Geng Y, Savage SM, Razani-Boroujerdi S, Sopori ML. Effects of nicotine on the immune response. II. Chronic nicotine treatment induces T cell anergy. The Journal of Immunology. 1996 Apr 1;156(7):2384-90.
(5) Charney D. Increased Anxiogenic Effects of Caffeine in Panic Disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry. 1985;42(3):233.
(6) Alsene K, Deckert J, Sand P, de Wit H. Association Between A2a Receptor Gene Polymorphisms and Caffeine-Induced Anxiety. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003;28(9):1694-1702.
(7) 20+ Harmful Effects of Caffeine [Internet]. Caffeineinformer.com. 2020 [cited 14 April 2020]. Available from: https://www.caffeineinformer.com/harmful-effects-of-caffeine
(8) Epel E, Lapidus R, McEwen B, Brownell K. Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behavior. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2001;26(1):37-49.
(9) Beware High Levels of Cortisol, the Stress Hormone | Premier Health [Internet]. Premierhealth.com. 2020 [cited 14 April 2020]. Available from: https://www.premierhealth.com/your-health/articles/women-wisdom-wellness-/beware-high-levels-of-cortisol-the-stress-hormone
(10) 11 Natural Ways to Lower Your Cortisol Levels [Internet]. Healthline. 2020 [cited 14 April 2020]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ways-to-lower-cortisol#section10
(11) Besedovsky L, Lange T, Born J. Sleep and immune function. Pflügers Archiv-European Journal of Physiology. 2012 Jan 1;463(1):121-37.
(12) How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? – National Sleep Foundation [Internet]. Sleepfoundation.org. 2020 [cited 14 April 2020]. Available from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
(13) Nieman D, Wentz L. The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2019;8(3):201-217.
(14) Campbell J, Turner J. Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan. Frontiers in Immunology. 2018;9.
(15) Vedhara K, Gill S, Eldesouky L, Campbell B, Arevalo J, Ma J et al. Personality and gene expression: Do individual differences exist in the leukocyte transcriptome?. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015;52:72-82.
(16) EUFIC.org. “Nutrition and the Immune System”
(17) European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2003) 57, Suppl 1, S66-S69. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601819.
Am J Clin Nutr November 1973 vol. 26 no. 11 1180-1184.
(18)Warren M. What Role Does Diet Play in a Healthy Immune System? [Internet]. Alternative Health. 2020 [cited 15 April 2020]. Available from: https://www.alternative-health-concepts.com/what-role-does-diet-play-in-a-healthy-immune-system/

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