No one likes to get sick. It’s especially frustrating when it seems like you’re constantly catching colds or other illnesses, like the flu or a sinus infection. So what gives?
“People who get sick often likely have compromised immune systems. When our immune systems aren’t working their best, we are at risk for getting sick from infections that we might get,” Dr. Nicole Avena, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Visiting Professor of Health Psychology at Princeton University, tells SheKnows. According to Avena, there are a number of things that can lead to a compromised or weakened immune system, including stress, lack of sleep, or a poor diet.
We know that optimizing our immune system is good for us, but what exactly is it anyway?
“The immune system is a collection of biological processes that protect us from disease by identifying and killing pathogens. It can detect these pathogens and then mount a system to destroy them so that we can stay healthy,” says Avena.
Which is why it’s so important to keep our immune system fully functional so that we can protect ourselves from a number of viruses. The good news is that there are easy and actionable steps we can incorporate into our lives to protect our bodies and health and help us thrive. We talked to a number of medical experts to offer the six ways to boost your immune system when you keep getting sick.
Get a good night’s sleep
“The body reboots itself, including the immune system while you sleep,” Dr. William Li, physician, scientist and author of Eat To Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself, tells SheKnows. “Sleep deprivation wears down immunity, so get your ZZZs to boost your immunity. This is important if you keep getting sick.”
Watch your diet.
“If you are not eating well, you will not get the proper balance of micronutrients that are needed to keep your immune system running at its best,” says Avena who recommends eating a variety of fruits and vegetables to keep healthy.
According to Li, vitamin C has been shown to be important to support immunity. “Deficiency in this vitamin is associated with an increase in respiratory illness,” he says, adding that guava is a “delicious fruit packed with vitamin C.” Other fruits and veggies packed with a high dose of vitamin C include red acerola cherries, sweet yellow peppers, kiwis, and kale.
Up your vitamin intake.
“Vitamins like D can help improve certain parts of the immune system by ramping up the cells that support it and increasing the enzyme Cathelcidin,” says Dr. Neil Paulvin, a functional integrative sports and regenerative medicine physician. “But where you get them is key. It is important to enjoy natural, clean sources.” If you have any questions about the integrity of your supplements, it’s important to consult with your doctor or a naturopath.
Other vitamins Paulvin recommends include the peptides Thymosin Alpha-1 and Thymosin Beta-4 which you can get as a supplement or through injection. “[They] work on the thymus to boost T-cell production to help fight off viruses. They also help with with antibody production and has antioxidant effects.” He also suggests taking a supplement for melatonin. “It’s not just good for sleep, it boosts IL-10 and decreases Thf-alpha and IL-6 which are part of the cytokine storm of COVID-19.” Paulvin says you can get melatonin through flax, walnuts, pomegranate and asparagus — or you can also supplement with 3 mg of melatonin.
For his part, Dr. Li suggests taking a probiotic, which he says can build up your immunity.
Eliminate sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages
“Researchers have discovered your gut bacteria, also called the microbiome, helps your immune system do its job. If you keep getting sick, your gut bacteria might not be doing its job,” says Li. “Sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages can damage your microbiome.” Which means stay away from sodas, and drink water and tea.
Try to reduce stress
“Stress will weaken your immune system,” says Avena. “When your body senses stress, it devotes all of its resources to battling that stress, think about the fight-or-flight response, which we are hardwired for.”
As a result, your body is flooded with stress hormones such as cortisol, says Dr. Seema Sarin, a board-certified Internal Medicine physician and director of Lifestyle Medicine at EHE Health. “Prolonged or chronic exposure to high levels of stress hormones, however, can weaken your immune system and leave you vulnerable to every passing pathogen.”
Adds Li, “If you keep getting sick, your body could be worn out, and you need to recharge at home.” According to Li, if you need to take a few days off from work in order to recuperate, then you should try to do so and focus on the things that help you de-stress like yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or reading a favorite book.
According to Sarin, regular, moderate physical activity is also important to keep your immune system functioning optimally, as it can help suppress inflammation. But you also don’t want to over do it either.
“Complete lack of exercise causes the immune system to weaken. Too much exercise and for too long a period of time will actually weaken the immune system as well,” Dr. Lisa Ballehr tells SheKnows. “A moderate amount of exercise allows your body to recover and build immunity quicker than over exercising or not exercising at all.” According to Ballehr, on average an individual should participate in 20-30 minutes of movement a day.
Doing the above will help keep your immune system highly optimized to help fend off pesky bugs and viruses. However, if you find that you keep getting sick, Sarin says there are a few things you want to keep a careful eye on.
“If you find yourself taking antibiotics for something more than twice per year, have chronic sinus infections, have pneumonia more than once, or suffer four or more ear infections in a year, it could be a sign of a more serious immune problem,” she says. “If you have these or any other concerning symptom, discuss them further with your doctor.”