If you have taken a biology college course covering the immune system you may have heard it compared to an army. An army designed to serve and protect your body from illness and harmful intruders. But how do you know if your army is well managed, operational, and strong, or disordered, unruly, and in need of reinforcement. Let’s talk about your personal defense system and see how it is doing.
Health vs. Sickness
Health or sickness can hinge upon the health or sickness of your immune system. Boosting your immune system is a common phrase, yet totally incorrect. You want a healthy and properly functioning immune system not a ‘boosted’ one. An overactive, misdirected, or insufficient immune system often relates to sickness and an increased susceptibility to disease. Evaluating the health of your immune system includes monitoring four key things: 1. gut health, 2. fatigue and stamina, 3. stress levels, and 4. illness incidence, length, and severity.
A healthy immune system is characterized by strength and balance.
Signs and Symptoms of Health vs. Sickness
Checking your gut health may be the best key indicator of your immune system health. This is primarily due to the gut housing 70-80% of the immune system. If your gut is not functioning in a healthy way, it is likely that your immune system is not functioning in a healthy way as well. On the flip side, healthy gut function is likely indicative of healthy immune system function.
Microbes that comprise your gut microbiome are key operatives in your body’s immune system. When in proper balance these gut microbes help your body properly identify compounds and microorganisms as beneficial or harmful. Proper identification of potential threats to your body is essential for a healthy immune system, thus an unbalanced or sick gut microbiome (i.e., poor gut health) can lead to misidentification of foreign compounds and microorganisms. With identification being the first step in the process of your immune system it is clear to see its importance, and thus the importance of a balanced and healthy gut microbiome (i.e., good gut health).
Some signs and symptoms of an imbalanced and unhealthy gut that connect with improper or unhealthy immune system function include frequent constipation, diarrhea, gas, loss of appetite, and/or abdominal pain, increased food intolerances or allergic reactions, and gut inflammation. Supplementing your diet with a clinically proven probiotic can help to balance and support your gut microbiome, often translating to good gut health as well as a healthy and properly functioning immune system. (To learn more about creating and supporting a healthy immune system through the gut microbiome read our previous blog post)
Fatigue and Stamina
Monitoring your own levels of fatigue and stamina offer a good clue as to whether you have a healthy immune system or one that is in a compromised state. Feelings of constant tiredness, especially when you think you should not be tired (i.e., when you have slept well, eaten nutritious food, not overexerted yourself, etc.) can be linked to a compromised immune system. Feelings of fatigue and reduced stamina occur as the body utilizes more of its energy to support the compromised immune system, thus taking energy and efficiency away from the rest of the body.
“The immune system is undeniably important in promoting health and well-being by preventing infectious disease.”
Constant high stress levels can cause a number of maladies. Checking your stress levels regularly in this case is very helpful for identifying the health of your immune system. Consistently high stress levels relate to a compromised immune system for a number of reasons including a decrease in lymphocytes (white blood cells that fight infection). Because of this lack of troops, during prolonged periods of high stress your body is more vulnerable to illnesses such as the common cold.
Illness Incidence, Length, and Severity
This last point may be the most obvious way to evaluate the health of your immune system. Yet, even people with healthy functioning immune systems can get ill sometimes, for a variety of reasons. Differences in acute illness between a person with a healthy immune system vs. a person with a weakened or compromised immune system can be determined by acute illness incidence rate and the length and severity of said illnesses. A person with a healthy properly functioning immune system will usually overcome and recover quickly from occasional acute illnesses. Whereas, a person with a compromised immune system may repeatedly be affected by the same acute illness (i.e., the immune system may not be building effective immunity) or frequently contract any illness; these states of illness are typically more severe in their symptoms and extended periods of time are needed to eradicate the infection and recover.
Any lapse in the efficacy of your body’s main defense system can take you away from doing what you love as you deal with unwanted symptoms and take time to recover. Periodically checking the health of your immune system is a good way to keep your body in top shape and prevent potential illness. Monitoring gut health, fatigue and stamina, stress levels, and illness incidence, length, and severity can help you evaluate the strength and health of your immune system.