Immunity: It’s All About Exposure and Susceptibility
I’ve spent the last two weeks writing about how your immune system works and what you can do to improve your immunity using nutrition. Knowing how your immune system functions is vital, especially in today’s climate, because when you know how it works you are empowered to make decisions based on the statistics and data that matter. And, when you understand how it operates, you can determine the best way to support it.
Today, I want to consider that getting sick is not just about exposure, it’s about susceptibility. Over the last 18 months, plenty of anecdotal stories made the rounds about people exposed to the virus multiple times, who didn’t come down with it. Stories of nurses who worked on the front line for 18 months but didn’t get sick, a family member in education who was around entire teams that came down with the virus but didn’t catch it. Or my own husband, who’s been at work every day since the pandemic began and slept in the same bed as me when I was sick (before we knew what it was), but didn’t contract it. (By the way, neither did my three adult children who were living at home at the time.) So that begs the question, can you make lifestyle choices that create a welcome environment for bugs and germs?
The answer is a resounding YES! Here’s what to do if you want to trash your immune system and increase your odds of getting really sick.
Eat sugar and drink alcohol. And Lots of It.
In the last two blog posts, I related our immune system to a fortress and our immune cells to the staff within the castle. Eating sugar is like mounting a great defense against a foreign invader and then inviting the enemy in for dinner.
Think about the story of the trojan horse. Greek soldiers finally conquered Troy after a fruitless 10-year siege by hiding inside a big wooden horse that was supposedly an offering to the goddess, Athena. Sugar and alcohol are trojan horses. They are sweetly packaged, often seen as a gift or a treat, but destroy your defenses from the inside out.
A meta-analysis published in 2018 concluded that high consumption of alcohol is associated with an 83% increased risk of getting community-acquired pneumonia. Each 10-20g (1-2 units) alcohol intake per day created an 8% increase in the risk of infection.
Based on a study from 1970, we know that eating sugar can cause your castle knights to take a nap for several hours. This renders them pretty useless when it comes to invaders. However, we also know that eating high amounts of sugar can result in obesity, insulin resistance, heart disease, and type II diabetes, which are all tremendous risk factors for COVID-19.
So, if you want to improve your risk of getting sick, go ahead! Drink up and chow down! If on the other hand, you want to improve your odds of staying healthy, keep your added sugars under 16g per day.
Burn the Candle at Both Ends
Have you ever noticed the idioms associated with fatigue? We say we’re:
Dead on my feet.
On our last legs.
It seems like we often associate fatigue with our demise. Ever wondered why that is?
Last week, we talked about the components of a healthy immune system by using the illustration of a castle and the knights and foot soldiers that protect it. T-Cells are a member of your immune system’s lymphocyte team. They are like the foot soldiers in the castle who look for the bad guys and kill them off. We know that sleep improves your T-Cell’s ability to use a glue-like substance called integrins to stick to the infection and kill it. Stress hormones reduce the stickiness of integrins, but sleep lowers those hormones making the T-Cells far more effective. Lack of sleep lowers your T-cell activity by up to 70%.
We also know that when you sleep, your body makes cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that help improve your sleep, but also help to mediate and regulate your immune system and your inflammation. When you sleep less, your body makes and releases fewer cytokines.
In April 2020, UCI Health reported on a study that showed how this plays out. The study exposed two groups of people to the common cold virus. One group had more than 7 hours of sleep, the other group had less than 6 hours of sleep. The group that got less than 6 hours of sleep a night for a week before they were exposed to the common cold were four times more likely to get sick.
Sit Around on Your A$$ All Day
Many of us (myself included) make a buck by sitting on our rear ends all day long. When we get done at the end of the day, we grab a bite to eat and relax on our keisters till we crawl into bed. Great news! If you want to get sick, this is a fantastic way to increase the likelihood of catching everything that’s going around this season.
Ongoing, consistent, moderate exercise improves your immunity. If you work out for less than an hour, it puts your natural killer cells and T-cells in motion, stimulating them to move between cells so they can do their work. Working out also lowers stress hormones, which can suppress immune function. It also reduces inflammatory cytokines. It has a cumulative effect. Over time, these short periods of exercise build up the capacity of the immune system and lower inflammation.
There is increasing evidence that your innate immune system, the one that defends your body when you get sick, sees an uptick in activity after a regular workout. We also know that exercise has an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect on your body. It is believed that over time, these effects help counter tumor growth, clogged arteries, and other disease processes.
Exercise creates small increases in the cytokine called Interleukin 6, which helps to improve sugar and fat metabolism over time. Improved sugar and fat metabolism lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease, which are known COVID risk factors.
Exercise can even decrease oxidative stress on your body by making your antioxidant enzymes more efficient. Your body’s master antioxidant, glutathione combats free radicals. Exercise makes it better.
Maybe, right now, you’re jogging on the spot, reading this post thinking “ha, I’m so glad that doesn’t apply to me! I exercise like it’s going out of fashion, so I’m going to be just fine!”
Not so fast there my fitness fanatic friend.
My principal, Dr. Henele E’Ale says “More is not better, better is better.” Overexertion may compromise your immunity, so invest your time in effective exercise strategies rather than spending more time at the gym.
Embrace Your Inner ‘Bad News Bear’ Pessimistic Outlook
In the last couple of years, we so perfected the art of immersing ourselves in bad news, that we created a new descriptor for it: “doomscrolling or doomsurfing; the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening.”
John Hopkins Medicine says: “The mechanism for the connection between health and positivity remains murky, but researchers suspect that people who are more positive may be better protected against the inflammatory damage of stress. Another possibility is that hope and positivity help people make better health and life decisions and focus more on long-term goals. Studies also find that negative emotions can weaken your immune response.
What is clear, however, is that there is definitely a strong link between “positivity and health. Additional studies have found that a positive attitude improves outcomes and life satisfaction across a spectrum of conditions—including traumatic brain injury, stroke and brain tumors.” (Hopkins Medicine n.d.)
If you want to trash your immune system definitely frown more, never think about what you are grateful for, hang out with people that only focus on negative things, focus on things that have no value to you, and repeat your gloomy mantras all day long.
(Note: Joking aside, as a survivor of a mental health break, I take this subject really seriously. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, get help. Contact a friend, a counselor, your physician, or a spiritual leader and let them know that you need support. The Suicide Hotline number is 1-800-273-8255.)
Every season brings with it new challenges. Often the seasons we experience annually bring along health-related trials. Typically, fall and late winter see an uptick in seasonal infections. In today’s climate, considering the pandemic’s presence, and as fall approaches, you’ve learned about some concrete steps you can take to protect your health. In the last two posts, we discussed the importance of nutrition and supplements, today, the softer skills of lifestyle habits.
Along with nutrition and supplements, it is important to sleep well, habitually exercise, and maintain a positive outlook to set yourself up for a lifetime of success. And while these things don’t guarantee perfection, they will do an immeasurable amount to protect your most valuable asset; your health.
Getting sick requires exposure AND susceptibility. You can’t avoid exposure. However, you can do a lot to improve your immune resilience. It all begins with what you put in your body and ends with how much you rest, how much exercise you get, and maintaining a positive outlook on life.
For most people, minor lifestyle changes will make a big difference. However, there are times when the problem runs deeper, and you need professional help. If you’ve tried to figure this out on your own, or you feel like you’re lost in a maze of information and aren’t sure which path to take, don’t give up hope.
We have a range of different approaches that will help you figure out the root cause of your dysfunction and stop the cycle of sickness so you can feel better now. Book your free 30-minute Breakthrough Strategy Session today.