How to Support a Weak Immune System
Are you one of those people who gets every cold or flu that’s going around? Maybe you’re just more exposed than other people, or have young kids in school (that will definitely bring home the bugs). But chances are if you aren’t able to fight off these illnesses, your immune system may be compromised. So keep reading if you want to know the most common symptoms of a weak immune system and how to naturally give your body a boost.
How Do You Know if You Have a Weak Immune System?
Before we get into discussing weak immune system symptoms and how to help, let’s go over how the immune system works. When a foreign substance in the form of a virus or bacteria enters the body, your immune system is the first line of defense.
When the bad guys come in, the immune system responds by sending out white blood cells from the lymphatic system to gobble up these nasty invaders. It gets a little complicated because the immune cells can come from different parts of the body- like the thymus, spleen, bone marrow, and intestines! All of these need to be functioning well and working together to send the correct immune cells out to battle.
What happens when your immune system is weak is that you have lower levels of these white blood cells. Having a weak immune system could be due to a number of reasons including a compromised lymphatic system, a chronic low-level infection, or a lurking virus. Stress and poor diet also play a huge role in causing weak immune system symptoms.
You can assess your immune system function pretty easily by reflecting a bit on your health history.
- If you get a cut, does it take a long time to heal? Can a hangnail quickly turn into an infected finger?
- Do you suffer from food sensitivities or other allergies?
- Do you have stomach problems or IBS? What about urinary tract infections, cold sores, or other flare-ups of chronic infections?
- Are you the first person to catch a cold, flu, or strep throat? Do you feel like you have to constantly sanitize your hands and disinfect your home during cold season?
- Do you feel constantly tired, stressed, and run-down?
All of these are weak immune system symptoms, and if you don’t pay attention, they could turn into something more serious down the road. If you want to know how to tell if your child has a weak immune system, the same questions above will apply.
Causes of a Weak Immune System
So what causes a weak immune system? There are many things that can contribute to immune issues in both children as well as adults. Here are some of them:
This one doesn’t seem fair, but unfortunately, about 1 in every 333 people will be born with something called primary immunodeficiency (2). In some cases, this doesn’t cause any major issues, but others may get sinus, urinary, and intestinal infections frequently. This case is on the lesser extreme of the spectrum, but there is one immune deficiency disease so severe that it requires a bone marrow transplant.
Poor Diet and Nutrient Deficiency
The more common cause of weak immune system symptoms in otherwise healthy people is lifestyle-related. If your diet consists of fast food, your body isn’t getting the nutrition it needs. If you drink sugary sodas in place of water, you could also be chronically dehydrated with blood sugar instability, and both of these things affect the immune system.
This could also lead to poor gut health and an abundance of bad bacteria in the intestines. Remember- part of our immune system is in the gut. The other problem with this is a lack of nutrients. Specifically, you need zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin E to create those white blood cells and support a healthy functioning immune system. If you don’t get these vitamins and minerals from a healthy diet or supplementation, you could have weak immune system symptoms.
Many people have a weakened immune system due to stress. Stress can come from many directions and affect all bodily systems. If you’re always on the go, or emotionally unstable and exhausted, your immune cells won’t work as well. Your body is being pumped with adrenaline and other stress hormones which means all other functions take a backseat: like digestion and immunity.
Other stresses are environmental, like being exposed to radiation, extreme heat or cold, or even flying. Think about being in a massive plane, breathing the recycled air of people bringing germs from all over the place. Yuck. That’s why I always carry hand sanitizer and an essential oil mini kit when traveling.
Viruses and Other Diseases
Most people are familiar with HIV, which has a significant effect on the immune system. But what about lesser-known viruses like Epstein-Barr? This is the virus that causes mono, especially in children from elementary school to college. And it stays dormant in your system until things like stress wake it up and give it power.
Other diseases that cause weak immune system symptoms are sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and some cancers like leukemia.
Autoimmune Conditions (3)
Autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Crohn’s disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis can also impact the immune system.
How do autoimmune diseases affect weakened immune systems? Well, these diseases occur when the immune system gets confused and begins to attack its own cells. Depending on the illness, this could cause a breakdown of bones, tissues, and glands.
The most common treatment for these is immune-suppressing prescription drugs. But by suppressing the immune system to keep it from attacking itself, also keeps it from attacking other bacteria or viruses.
How to Naturally Improve a Weak Immune System
While some things that cause weak immune system symptoms are harder to treat than others, there are some easy ways to support your immunity naturally. If you want to know some weak immune system treatment options, keep reading for my top four tips.
Supplements work to improve the immune system in a few different ways. Immune modulating supplements like reishi mushroom help the immune system balance. A person with allergies or autoimmune conditions could benefit from supplementing with mushroom adaptogens.
One of the best supplements for improving a weak immune system is a good multivitamin that includes zinc, selenium, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E. This will improve your immune system by giving your body everything it needs to create those healthy white blood cells. Micronutrient deficiency is a biggie when it comes to weak immune system symptoms, so above all things make sure you’re getting adequate vitamins and minerals!
Reducing and controlling stress is so crucial to beating weak immune system symptoms. The knock off effect of stress usually leads people to reach for unhealthy coping habits and skipping out on exercise, healthy eating, and quality sleep.
One of the best natural ways to improve your immune system is making sure you are managing stress. You could start by saying no to any obligations that aren’t necessary and don’t make you happy. Learning how to relax your nervous system through yoga or exercise is also great for stress! And so is turning off the TV and getting adequate sleep. I recommend trying to get into a habit of creating headspace every morning! I know, you hear about meditation a lot- but trust me- there’s a reason people that do it can’t stop talking about it! It’s because it really works, and I highly recommend it.
Other natural ways to improve a weak immune system are through eating a healthy diet full of good fats, fiber, and nutrients dense veggies. This will work in a few different ways. One, it will help with any micronutrient deficiencies you may have going on and give your body the fuel it needs to function optimally. It will also keep blood sugar stable which reduces stress inside the body- and as we all know, reducing stress will also reduce weak immune system symptoms. Finally, it helps feed a healthy gut microbiome. But speaking of the gut, it needs it’s own section.
Boost Gut Health
When you boost your gut health, you boost your immune system. Scientists have discovered that a large part of the immune system is located in the gut (4). So do yourself a favor and focus on getting it into shape. We’ve got a whole article on that if you want to go deeper, but here are the basics.
- Eat fiber, fermented foods, and other foods that feed the good bacteria in the gut.
- Avoid processed foods, gluten, non-organic dairy, and trans fats.
- Drink bone broth! It’s like a superfood for your gut lining!
- Try probiotics and digestive enzymes before meals.
I hope I’ve given you a good break down of weak immune system symptoms, why they occur, and how to find some support. What about you? Do you have any tips to share? Or experiences of how you’ve learned to improve you or your child’s immune system? Leave a comment below and share your story!
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- Exploring Your Mind (2019). “How Does the Human Immune System Work?” Retrieved from: https://exploringyourmind.com/human-immune-system-work/
- O’Connell, Amy (2017). “What Causes a Low Immune System?” Retrieved from: https://healthfully.com/221948-what-causes-a-low-immune-system.html
- Watson, Stephanie (2019). “Autoimmune Conditions: Types, Symptoms, Causes and More.” Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/autoimmune-disorders
- Fields, Helen (2015). “The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune Systems Meet.” Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/research/advancements-in-research/fundamentals/in-depth/the-gut-where-bacteria-and-immune-system-meet