5 Things You Didn't Know Hurt Your Immune System

Some of the things you do daily might be preventing you from keeping your immune system in tip-top shape.

Everyone wants a strong immune system—especially right now amid the coronavirus pandemic. The problem is that some of the things you do on a daily basis might actually be preventing you from keeping your immune sytem in tip-top shape. If you want to make sure that your body is able to fight off harmful viruses like COVID-19 the best it possibly can, make sure you're avoiding these five common things doctors say could be damaging your immune system without you even realizing it. And for more immune system facts to learn, check out 7 Bad Mistakes That Are Weakening Your Immune System.

Your lack of sleep

Asian senior man lying in bed but cannot sleep from insomnia

How much sleep are you getting every night? If it's not the recommended 7 to 9 hours, you could be hurting your immune system. "Many patients understand that lack of sleep makes them feel groggy or reduces the efficiency with which they think or process information. But lack of sleep can really damage your immune system, too, making it more difficult for your body to ward off medical issues, stress, and anxiety," says Niket Sonpal, MD, an internist and gastroenterologist in New York City.

On top of that, Sonpal says a lack of sleep also makes it harder for your body to recover should you come down with a sickness like the coronavirus. And if you're desperate for a good night's sleep, check out 20 Doctor-Approved Tips to Get a Full Night's Sleep Tonight.

Your poor diet

woman works at a computer and eats unhealthy food: chips, crackers, candy, waffles, soda

There are a lot of downsides to eating unhealthily, from diabetes to heart disease. But it turns out, your diet can affect your immune system, too. Sonpal says eating a diet that lacks fruit and veggies and is high in sugar and high-fat foods can also set your immune system up for trouble down the line.

"We know fatty, fried foods affect the way in which your body can shield itself from infections and sickness," he says. "Plant-based foods, on the other hand, are essential to getting the vitamins, minerals, and fiber you need to keep your body healthy. If your diet is off-balanced in favor of processed, fatty, and oily food, you're doing your immune system no favors."

Your drinking

Drunk man with alcohol sleeping on table

There's nothing wrong with having a glass of wine or a beer after a long day at work (even if it's from home). The problem comes when you're drinking too much of it. "Alcohol is dehydrating, and it has a negative effect on your ability to battle germs and other illnesses," Sonpal says. "This is compounded by alcohol's ability to deplete the amount of quality sleep you can get."

In the long run, Sonpal says alcohol can cause issues with your liver, cancer, and other problems as well. "It's important to enjoy alcohol, like other unhealthy things most people love, in moderation," he cautions. And if you want to learn more about your immune system, Here Are the Myths About Your Immune System You Need to Stop Believing.

Your vaping

Young woman at home smoking electronic cigarette and spending time on mobile phone

While drinking alcohol is fine in moderation, vaping is never a good idea. In fact, a 2018 study published in the British Medical Journal found vaping may damage vital immune system cells.

"Most people understand that smoking isn't good for you, but many are still under the impression that vaping is healthier," Sonpal says. "In 2019, we had a major increase in respiratory illness caused by vaping, and this affected a large number of young people. Vaping still consists of the consumption of nicotine into the lungs, which puts you at risk for respiratory illness and other long-term issues."

Your medication

Senior woman looking at prescription bottles

If you take medications to help you battle chronic diseases like lupus or asthma, you need to be aware of how those prescriptions could be affecting your immune system. Corticosteroids, for example, are drugs that treat a wide variety of disorders, including asthma, arthritis, skin conditions, and autoimmune diseases. And they work by "decreasing inflammation and reducing the activity of the immune system," according to the Mayo Clinic.

"Talk with your doctor about any secondary effects of medications you're prescribed to deal with underlying health conditions, as some could cause a decrease in efficiency in the immune system," Sonpal says. And for more insight into your immune system, check out 13 Surprising Things That Can Affect Your Immune System.

Tehrene Firman
Tehrene Firman is a freelance health and wellness writer. Read more
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