4 factors that may affect your immune system
Why is it that some people get sick more than others? Or why do you get sick at certain times? Is having a healthy immune system genetic?
GP, Dr Jill Gamberg, says that while there are some genetic immunodeficiencies, they aren’t actually all that common.
“I’ll often see patients who are wondering why they get sick all the time. They want to know if there’s something wrong with them. But the reality is if you’re exposed to a virus and if, for whatever reason, your immune defences are low, it’s normal that you may get sick,’ Dr Jill says.
So, what affects your immune system? Dr Jill shares her insights into four common factors that may play a role in your immune health. Get ready for some interesting facts about the immune system!
1. Can smoking affect your immune system?
It’s probably no surprise that being a non-smoker is better for your health. Smoking puts you at risk for a range of health issues, including respiratory conditions, heart disease and diabetes.
Research has also shown that smoking tobacco may have negative impacts on your immune health.
“I think it’s quite clear that smoking is bad for us,” says Dr Jill, “But one other thing that we should be talking about is vaping. Many people think that vaping is better than smoking but there is more and more research coming out to show that this isn’t the case. Vaping can lead to various lung conditions, many serious.”
In fact, research shows that vaping and e-cigarettes can also have a negative effect on the immune defences of the upper respiratory tract.
2. Does alcohol impact the immune system?
While the evidence on smoking is more clear-cut, it’s not as straightforward for alcohol.
“Everyone is different but the first thing to say about alcohol is that you should certainly follow the Australian alcohol guidelines. That is, for adults aged 18 and over you should have no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not drink any alcohol, according to the guidelines,” Dr Jill advises.
Dr Jill also notes that it’s important for people to consider how alcohol makes them feel. If alcohol is negatively affecting you, that’s not ideal.
Of the impact of alcohol on the immune system, the research says that excessive alcohol consumption may have a negative effect and leave you more susceptible to respiratory illness, infections and impair your recovery when you are trying to get well.
3. How does diet affect your immune system?
The immune system relies on adequate nutrition to function properly. According to Dr Jill, this means eating a balanced diet of whole foods.
“If you eat too much food, it’s probably not good for you. Likewise, if you eat too little, it’s also probably not good for you,” explains Dr Jill, “Anything that’s extreme is probably not good for us. You should be aiming for a varied, whole food, plant rich diet with less processed foods and only occasional discretionary (sometimes) foods and drinks. This is the best thing you can do is be kind to yourself and your body.”
4. Is mental health linked with the immune system??
That’s not always possible, and in these cases, it’s important to reach out for help from your healthcare provider.
In addition, you may want to lean towards exercise as it can benefit the immune system and impact positively on stress management.
Treat your body kindly and reap the benefits
Yes, there are absolutely factors that can affect your immune system. But a large part of it comes down to how you treat your body and what you put into it.
By making healthier lifestyle choices and seeking help where you need it, you may be doing the best thing you can for your immune health.
Be sure to consult your GP or health practitioner if you have any questions or concerns about your immune system.
- Why you keep getting sick and what you can do about it
- What is a fad diet and why do you need to avoid them?
- Is sugar really that bad for us?
Dr Jill Gamberg is a General Practitioner and one of the first Australian Lifestyle Medicine Physicians whose goal is to help prevent disease and maintain wellness with evidence-based practice, and to passionately improve health literacy.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board September 2021.