Four Ways That Our Lifestyle Affects Our Immune System
Or really, what do our lifestyle choices reflect about our health?
The world is getting sicker and sicker these days. Modern medicine is not equipped to cure a chronic illness situation, though it does attempt to partially address symptoms of that chronic situation.
Unfortunately, sometimes we’re born with it. DNA transcription can go awry at times. If the information that is transcribed hits a snag (through no fault of either parent), a child can be born with a faulty immune system by default, which immediately exposes them to immune problems such as autoimmune disorders or allergic reactions.
But for most humans, who were born as healthy babies with no significant health problems, how does their immunity deteriorate over the years?
What other implications does this lowered immunity have with their susceptibility towards developing chronic health conditions?
1. INSUFFICIENT NUTRITION
Our immune system is a whole network of different cells and the signals that they can send out biochemically. If you have played the telephone game (or Chinese whispers) as a child, this is what the game goes like:
- Players form a line.
- The first player in line is given a message. The first player then recites it to the second player.
- The second player will try to remember as much of the message as possible, and transmit it to the third player.
- The message transmission passes all the way down through to the final player, and the message that the final player recites is compared with the original version.
More often than not, the message will be completely garbled and different in meaning from the original.
In the same way, we have different cells operating in our immune system. They operate in a sequence and they were designed to have specific functions.
What happens along the line when their intended functions go haywire? It could just be the result of a garbled signal, or an overly intense signal, or an underwhelming signal. A lot of problems can arise from there.
Proper nutrition aids in ensuring that the immune system signalling activity works as it should be doing so. What nutrients are involved? Do check out this other article for more information.
It’s not about the complete lack of nutrition. It’s about a nearly perpetual mild deficiency in some nutrients that support cellular function, including the consumption vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in our diet. This mild deficiency adds up over time.
2. POOR SLEEP QUALITY
A large proportion of the population in the United States experiences chronic sleep deprivation, where it is mentioned by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that
A third of US adults report that they usually get less than the recommended amount of sleep.
Insufficient quality sleep can lead to the adrenal glands releasing higher levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine (the stress hormones) into the blood.
These 2 hormones help to increase the activity of the pro-inflammatory nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) signalling pathway in the body, hence resulting in an intensified inflammation signalling. Now, NF-κB regulates various aspects of immune responses within the body, so what can chronic sleep deprivation do to the body?
Chronic sleep deprivation upregulates NF-κB to produce more pro-inflammatory signalling cytokines, thus increasing the level of inflammation in the body. As a result, the immune system responses of a person with chronic sleep deprivation won’t be as optimal as they ought to be.
Long-term chronic inflammation can also lead on into various issues such as cardiovascular disease, cancer or depressive disorders. Hence, cardiovascular disease, cancer and depression are merely symptoms of a suboptimal immune system — but of course modern medicine doesn’t treat it that way!
Again, in this situation, we’re looking at the long-term buildup of a small deficiency over time, as it is in the case of the Insufficient Nutrition scenario.
3. POOR STRESS MANAGEMENT
It’s not easy these days for people to stop and smell the roses.
There are so many things clamouring for our attention, including (but are not limited to):
- Work, or climbing the corporate ladder.
- Mortgage/home loan payments.
- Rearing children.
- Phone, computer, tablet and television screens.
During periods of high stress, the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine are released into the blood by the adrenal glands. Chronically stressed people will be having chronically higher levels of these hormones in their blood, and the same inevitable outcomes as Poor Sleep Quality are more likely to occur too.
Much like Poor Sleep Quality, Poor Stress Management also has a big detrimental impact to the optimal functioning of the immune system. A poorly managed stress level can contribute to long-term immune system disorders.
4. POOR EXERCISE HABITS
Let’s face it — when we get stressed out over the factors that clamour for our attention, will we be in the mood for exercise? Or do we even have time to exercise consistently?
Chances are, the answers would be a big resounding “NO”.
Short bursts of high intensity exercises enhance the activity of the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) enzyme, which aids in facilitating autophagy (for more information on what autophagy does to support the immune system, do check out my other Medium articles at Why is There a Mad Dash to Manufacture Effective Drugs to Combat the COVID-19 Coronavirus? and The Anatomy Behind Cancer Cell Development).
Insufficient exercise intensity leads to a more poorly regulated autophagy mechanism, which affects the ability of the immune system to eliminate viruses.
Again, the immune system is affected.
But what are the further implications behind this situation?
The functionality of the immune system faces attacks from multiple aspects of our lifestyle. If the four factors of sleep, diet, stress and exercise aren’t really managed properly, one’s susceptibility to illnesses will be higher.
But worse still… Leaving the immune system to degenerate slowly opens the doors up for the NF-κB pathway to run unregulated, which also exacerbates the chances of a person developing symptoms of chronic inflammation, including (but are not limited to):
- Cancer (The Anatomy of Cancer Cell Development/Is Autophagy Good Or Bad For Cancer Treatment?)
- Heart disease (Now Seriously, What’s So Tricky About Cholesterol?)
- Type 2 diabetes (Type 2 Diabetes — A Case of The Immune System Gone Bad, Too?)
- Osteoporosis (Why Does Osteoporosis Affect Post-Menopausal Women More Significantly Than Other People?)
- Osteoarthritis (What The Deuce Is Different Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?)
- Autoimmune disorders (Autoimmune Alert! Friendly Fire Attacking Meself!)
Isn’t it obvious, then, why people with chronic health conditions such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes symptoms are at higher risk of death from virulent infections such as COVID-19?
The answer is clear — it is because their immune systems have already been operating suboptimally and are not equipped to deal with the virus as effectively as a healthy person’s immune system ought to.
Joel Yong, PhD, is a biochemical engineer/scientist, an educator and a writer. He has authored 4 ebooks (available on Amazon.com in Kindle format) and co-authored 6 journal articles in internationally peer-reviewed scientific journals. His main focus is on finding out the fundamentals of biochemical mechanisms in the body that the doctors don’t educate the lay people about, and will then proceed to deconstruct them for your understanding — as an educator should.
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You may also want to visit Digging Deeper Into Doctoral Diagnoses to check out relevant questions or answers to questions that have eluded you for quite a fair bit.