Does Staying Home Weaken Your Immune System? Here's What Experts Say
Here's what you should and shouldn't worry about when it comes to how isolation is affecting your body.
In the era of the coronavirus pandemic, you may feel panicked by even the smallest choices you're making every day. Fear is the name of this game, and it's easy to get wrapped up in imagining potentially disastrous consequences. Fortunately, there's one less thing you have to worry about: the effects of staying home. Sure, it may feel strange to be stuck in your house for so long, but experts say staying home won't weaken your immune system—and it won't make you any more susceptible to COVID-19.
"There is no evidence that your immune system becomes weakened due to staying at home for an extended period of time," says Natasha Bhuyan, MD, a practicing family physician. "The reality is, our immune system is built over years due to a variety of factors. And while we are staying at home, we are still exposed to all kinds of pathogens in our house." Simply put, your lack of interaction does not compromise your ability to fight off disease.
At the same time, there are other factors in regards to remaining indoors to keep in mind that may impact your immune system. For starters, getting less sunlight than usual isn't ideal for keeping the immune system functioning, since your body needs vitamin D to be at its best.
Fortunately, there are still many activities during which you can safely get more sunlight, including walks, bike rides, and socially distanced trips to the park—with masks in place, of course. If you have a rooftop or yard, take advantage of that private space to get your fill of vitamin D. A 2010 study published by the National Library of Medicine found that absorbing just 10 to 30 minutes of sunlight a few times a week may produce enough of the vitamin to keep you healthy.
While the mere act of staying at home is not problematic for your immune system, the additional stresses of isolation—and living through a pandemic—can be. As psychiatrist Jared Heathman, MD, previously explained to Best Life, stress raises the amount of the hormone cortisol in a person's bloodstream, which can result in a weakened immune system. Cortisol imbalances prompt an uptick in glucose production, which "causes a situation where the [immune system] assassins are overwhelmed… [causing] a delay in the assassins killing the bugs that make us sick," Hans Watson, DO, a psychiatrist at University Elite PLLC, previously told Best Life.
This can manifest in a myriad of ways throughout the body. For example, John Satino, clinic director at Hair & Scalp Laser Clinics in Clearwater, Florida, reports an increase in patients calling to report hair loss in the past few weeks. Known as alopecia areata, this condition occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles, resulting in sudden hair loss. It can occur during times of severe stress.
Though stress in some form is almost inevitable right now, there are ways to combat it and protect your immune system. "I advise my patients to have a routine, eat a healthy diet rich in fresh foods, exercise regularly, and get at least eight hours of consistent sleep every night," says Bhuyan. Journaling, meditation, and counseling—if accessible—are additional techniques that can be implemented to manage your stress. And remember: 10 to 30 minutes in the sun daily can't hurt! And for more immunity misconceptions debunked, check out Here Are the Myths About Your Immune System You Need to Stop Believing.