How to Use Your Immune System to Stay Healthy
Building Healthy Immunity continued...
It’s hard to measure exactly sleep’s protective effect on the immune system,
and researchers don’t know precisely how sleep improves immunity. Like
antioxidants, sleep may help reduce oxidative stress, which then stops cells
from being weakened and harmed. But “clearly, sleep – at least seven hours a
night – is associated with increased resistance to infectious diseases,” says
Practice stress management: When your body is under constant stress,
you’re more vulnerable to everything from the common cold to major
“Stress from time to time is not necessarily a bad thing. But to not have
relief from the stress -- to be under constant stress -- is deleterious to
health,” says Polsky. That’s because a steady cascade of stress hormones, such
as cortisol and adrenaline, weaken the immune system.
Chronic stress is linked to heart disease and hypertension, and it can also
have an effect on white blood cell function, Polsky says.
“When I speak to people about lifestyle changes, I look at what they can do
to manage their stress, whether it be meditating – maybe exercise is their form
of meditation – whether it be spirituality of a religious nature. It really
doesn’t matter,” says Berliner.
Don’t abuse alcohol or use recreational drugs: Drinking a moderate
amount of alcohol appears to have some health benefits, such as lowering your
risk of heart disease. What’s “moderate?” No more than two drinks a day for a
man, or one drink for a woman. But drinking too much alcohol can inhibit the
function of white blood cells and lower your resistance to infection, says
Polsky. Using recreational drugs, including marijuana, has the same effect on
white blood cells, weakening your immune system.
Strengthen relationships: Research shows that people with close
friendships and strong support systems tend to be healthier than those who lack
A good sexual relationship may provide even more immune system benefits. A
study of college students found those who had sex once or twice a week had
higher levels of an immune system protein called immunoglobulin A (IgA) than
those who had less sex. Sex may also help immunity by reducing
stress and improving sleep.
“I tell people to get good love in their lives -- good support, good
friendships, however they need to get that love,” says Berliner. Good
relationships, along with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep,
are part of a holistic approach to boosting the immune system and protecting
yourself from disease. “And to treat any problem holistically, there is no
one-pill approach,” Berliner says.