5 Amazing Facts About Your Immune System
It may be invisible, but it’s not invincible. Read these 5 surprising immune system facts, and learn how some of your daily habits might be affecting your health.
#5 Your immune system has already had the best years of its life.
A 1992 study conducted at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology states that immune system function peaks around 15 years of age. Afterwards, the thymus begins to shrink, causing changes in T-cell production (as if puberty hadn’t already caused enough damage already). So the longer we live, the more susceptible we are to illness, which makes it even more important to start making healthy lifestyle choices early on.
#4 Dieting isn’t just torture, it’s torture for your immune system.
Recent surveys estimate that dieting among the adult population is on the rise, and that over 60% of adult women have recently engaged in pathogenic weight control. And this kind of severe dieting actually causes harm to the functionality of our natural killer (NK) cells, impairing the body’s ability to fight off infection. With more than 45 million Americans dieting every year, the chances are pretty high that you, or someone you know; are familiar with; or at least call on holidays, is afflicted with a case of impaired immune response – not to mention, hunger.
#3 Lack of sleep can cause an increase in sick days.
It may be something your mom told you, but it’s also a scientific fact; get to bed early. Studies have shown that when you aren’t getting enough sleep, T-cell production goes down, decreasing your body’s ability to respond to colds and infections, while inflammatory cytokines go up, increasing your risk for developing an illness. Experts tend to agree, anything less than 5 hours a night puts you in a prime position to catch (at the very least) a case of whatever mystery germ that guy who sneezed a few minutes ago is about to leave behind on the office doorknob.
#2 Your immune system can suffer from memory loss too.
Your adaptive immune system is constantly storing memories as it fights off harmful cells. These memories are then used in future encounters, enabling T cells and B cells to react immediately, rather than waiting to learn new information about the threat. In fact, this is the mechanism at work behind vaccinations, such as a flu shot. By introducing an inactive strain of the virus or bacteria, we create the opportunity for our body to store this memory, equipping it for the possibility of future encounters. However, as the immune system ages, the ability to store these memories can be compromised, resulting in less effective or delayed reactions from the immune system. As evidenced by a CDC Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report, in the 2013 flu season, only 9% of people over 65 experienced any benefit from the flu shot.
#1 A laugh a day keeps the doctor away.
Not only does laughter reduce stress, increase energy, trigger endorphins, and promote muscle relaxation, it also boosts your immune system. The lymphatic system works as a sort of central filtration system for the immune system. It collects the dead blood cells and toxins, filters the waste out, and then returns the clean fluid back to the circulating blood. Studies have shown that laughter causes changes in the diaphragmatic breathing that increases rate of toxic elimination by 10-15 times its normal rate. Increasing this flow pushes more fluid through the lymph nodes, which in turn increases the production of lymphocytes (white blood cells, such as those crucial natural killer cells). The more white blood cells you produce, the more equipped your body is to handle incoming threats. At the very least, now you have a medically valid excuse for all the cat videos you watch at work.