We don't always take the best care of ourselves – skipping out on sleep, indulging in junk food, letting stress get the better of us. Still... even if we let healthy habits slide, our immune systems keep plugging away and working hard to save us from ourselves!
But over time, all of this work can wear down and weaken our body's immune response. And there are some bad habits that can really undermine our immunity:
- Smoking: Lighting up and puffing away on cigarettes and other tobacco products damages the blood vessels and decreases blood circulation. Wounds heal more slowly, and smokers tend to get sick more often than those who stay clear of smoke. Smoking also harms some of our body's natural barriers to infection, especially the tissues of the mouth and throat. When these barriers are compromised, agents of infection can get into our bodies more easily and make us sick.
- Drinking: Drink too much alcohol, and your immune system gets drunk right along with the rest of you. A bout of binge drinking slows down special immune cells called cytokines that usually act as messengers to tell the body when to mount a defence against an infection. Chronic abuse of alcohol wreaks its own havoc on immunity, putting alcoholics at heightened susceptibility to some cancers, bacterial infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, and other diseases.
- Overloading on sugar: As mentioned above, your cytokines can suffer a hangover. Turns out, other types of immune cells can experience sugar-shock. Neutrophils go right to the source of infection and illness to gobble up offending pathogens. But some research has shown that after you down a couple of sugary pops or juices, these immune cells quickly lose their power – and might not get back to work defending your body for another 5 hours. Keep this in mind next time you're tempted to indulge your sweet tooth – especially during cold and flu season!
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