7 Surprising Signs Of A Weakened Immune System
If you get sick often, feel fatigued, or have other ongoing symptoms you just can't explain, it may mean you have a weakened immune system. And there are any number of reasons why that might be.
"Your immune system can be weakened by [eating less nutritiou food], a lack of sleep, and high stress levels," Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet and Swisse Wellness Consultant, tells Bustle.
These things wear you down, and make it difficult for your body to fight off illness. For example, "stress causes production of hormones known as cortisol, which can suppress the immune system," Dr. Tania Elliott, board-certified Allergist/Immunologist at NYU Langone Health, tells Bustle.
Of course, an underlying illness might be to blame, too. "Chronic disease, either disease of the immune system itself (immunodeficiency or autoimmunity; or other conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease) can all weaken the immune system," Dr. Elliott says. And that will be something you'll need to discuss with a doctor.
You can, however, boost your immune system with a few lifestyle changes. "To strengthen your immune system, self-care is vital," Palinski-Wade says. "To combat a lack of sleep, put yourself on a regular sleep schedule where you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day." You can also manage your stress, and make sure to eat nutritious foods.
Simple changes like these can make all the difference, and help strengthen your immune system over time. Read on for signs yours make be weaker than you think, according to experts.
1. You Have Ongoing Digestive Issues
"Research is finding more and more links between immunity and gut flora," nutritionist Lisa Richards tells Bustle. "It’s no surprise that a weakened immune system is often seen at the same time as chronic digestive problems."
Do you have ongoing issues with bloating, gas, or constipation? If so, "it’s typically a sign that something isn’t right in your gut," she says. "We now know that about 70 percent of your immune system tissue is located in your digestive tract. These digestive symptoms can be a sign that your immune system is misfiring, which could leave you vulnerable to infections, autoimmune disorders, or chronic inflammation." If your digestive systems are ongoing, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor.
2. You Catch Every Cold
If you catch every cold that goes around, take note. "Constantly catching colds and other viruses is a sign your body may not be equipped to fight off the germs it is exposed to on a regular basis," Palinski-Wade says.
Of course, one severe cold may not be cause for concern. But any more than that may be a sign. "In the course of a winter, catching two to three significant colds (lasting more than two days) is a sign of a weakened immune system," Elroy Vojdani MD, IFMCP, tells Bustle.
3. You're Always Tired
While there could be dozens of reasons why you feel fatigued, having a weakened immune system might be one of them, especially if you also have vague symptoms like achey joints, upset stomach, and decreased appetite.
"These are non-specific symptoms that suggest the body is run down, and in some cases, your immune system is fighting against your own organs in the body, known as an autoimmune condition," Dr. Elliott says. While this isn't always the case, your doctor will be better able to evaluate the problem.
4. You Have Two Or More Sinus Infections A Year
If you get two or more more sinus infections a year, take note. Dr. Elliott says this might be a sign you "have an issue with your immune system — either [it's] not making enough immune system cells to fight infection, or [it's] making enough cells, but those cells are not functioning properly to fight infection."
5. You Stay Sicker, Longer
If colds tend to wipe you out to the point you're stuck in bed for more than two to three days, Dr. Vojdani says a weakened immune system is to blame. While colds aren't fun, this intense lack of energy can be a sign.
You can help prevent a cold from taking such a massive toll, however, by adding a few things to your diet. "During cold and flu season, take a daily dose of immune-boosting supplements like 500 mg of Vitamin C, 5000 IU of Vitamin D3, and a daily olive leaf extract," Dr. Vojdani says.
And remember to give your digestive tract a little love, too. "Take a daily probiotic or eat fermented foods five times a week," he says, "to provide healthy bacteria to the intestinal environment." Because remember, so much of your immune system stems from your gut.
6. You Have Frequent Fungal Infections
Another sign you might not have enough immune system cells, or that they aren't functioning properly? If you have persistent thrush in the mouth or fungal infections on the skin, Dr. Elliott says. This is something you'll want to point out to your doctor, to find out if an underlying health issue is to blame.
7. You Get Four Or More Ear Infections A Year
If you get four or more ear infections in a year, Dr. Elliott says it could be yet another sign your immune system isn't functioning properly. So if this describes your life, and your ears are always struggling, definitely let a doctor know.
While there are ways you boost your immune system all by yourself — by eating well, getting enough rest, keeping your gut healthy, and managing stress — you might also want to look into possible underlying health conditions, like an autoimmune disorder.
Your immune system is the key to good health, and the more you can do to protect it — and kick it up a few notches when it's down — the better.