The immune system, the first line of defense! How can we defend ourselves against germs and have strong immune systems? I’m going to share scientific facts and other credible resources that provide advice on how to have a healthy immune system, my own protocol for maintaining a healthy immune system, and what I do when it is weak.
The information in this blog post takes into account all the concepts from my last blog: Facts on Germs & Immune Health to Uncover the Lies. To recap, we learn the Cellular Terrain Theory scientifically shows germs don’t cause disease, the disease is from a weakened immune system, and the Hygiene Hypothesis states we need to be exposed to a certain number of germs to have a strong immune system. We don’t need to fear germs, at least not when our immune system is strong.
So how can we apply this to our lives? What are the factors that go into creating a healthy immune system?
Applying the Hygiene Hypothesis Theory
My Immune Health
I want to start by sharing my own personal experiences. Ever since I was a little kid I rarely ever got sick. I feel like I missed maybe a handful of school days from kindergarten – middle school. Getting sick wasn’t common for me. I did have parents that encouraged me to wash my hands before meals and after meals, but it never really stuck. I only did it when they would remind me to. So maybe being exposed to more germs when I was a kid helped keep my immune system strong as the hygiene hypothesis explains.
In my lifetime, I have only had a flu virus a total of three times. In high school, I used to have friends who were a bit germaphobic and carried hand sanitizer in their purses and used it frequently. They would always clean their hands before eating anything, and I didn’t because I rarely got sick so I figured why change anything? They seemed to get sick more than me anyways. And I haven’t changed.
I don’t fear germs. I don’t typically wash my hands before meals, unless I’m preparing food, or have been exposed to some nasty chemicals, or have visible dirt on them. Of course, I wash my hands after I use the bathroom and deal with raw meats and such. But, I don’t typically carry a hand sanitizer. I don’t think too much about how often I touch my face. I know germs are everywhere and on everything. So even when you wash your hands before a meal at a restaurant you likely touch the faucet handles, touch the door, the menu, the table, your chair, and you already got more germs on you. Germs help the immune system grow stronger. But I think if your immune system is already kicking butt, then you probably shouldn’t change your cleansing habits.
Note: this is only based on my opinion and experience. I feel like many of the articles that overexpress the importance of washing your hands are based on the germ theory. But, that is just my personal opinion.
I can’t say for sure though that I wasn’t just genetically born with a super immune system. As this Discover article explains, there is a genetic component to having a strong immune system. Genes will determine what you are more susceptible to. Some people are more susceptible to asthma, some strep infections, others diabetes, or autoimmune diseases, and so on. But, as I explained before with the concept of epigenetics, lifestyle, environment, and habits play a larger role.
Why Overuse of Hand Sanitizer is Harmful to Your Health
Overuse of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can cause the skin to become irritated, dry, and flaky. Your hands will also age quicker with the development of more wrinkles and blemishes.
If your hand sanitizer isn’t made with alcohol it is made with triclosan which is antibacterial and can cause superbugs. Superbugs are diseases that are resistant to most antibiotics. According to a report, more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result (CDC,2021). Not to mention, the triclosan in hand sanitizer can actually harm your immune health!
Triclosan is not the only bad ingredient though. If your hand sanitizer has fragrances it probably has phthalates which can mess with your hormones.
Another study found that if you use hand sanitizer and then touch something containing BPA (a product in plastics that can damage the endocrine system), you may absorb the BPA up to a hundred-fold. BPA may even remain on your hands afterward. While certain hand sanitizers (specifically, those that contain at least 60% alcohol) are great at killing off microbial life, they can also remove naturally produced oils and beneficial bacteria present on your skin, which, ironically, reduces your body’s defenses against disease (Garcia, 2020).
You are better off just washing your hands! But if you must use a hand sanitizer, just choose an organic hand sanitizer. It is also possible to overwash your hands, but you will know if that’s the case if you have dry, itchy, flaky, or irritated skin. Overwashing can remove healthy oils and good bacteria that help defend against disease.
Applying the Cellular Terrain Theory for Immune Health
So being exposed to a lot of germs is not going to be beneficial for your immune system if you are not taking care of your body. You have to take care of your body by eating less processed foods, and not over-consuming sugar and processed carbohydrates as I talk about in my food blogs. You need decent sleep, lots of water, and stress management to keep your immune system strong.
Keys to Immune Health
1. Water is ESSENTIAL for Immune Health
Our bodies are up to 60% water. We use the water in our bloodstream to move nutrients into each organ system. Being dehydrated prevents the flow of nutrients to the organs. Staying well-hydrated is also very important for detoxification pathways, increasing lymphatic draining, and making sure we are clearing out any foreign invaders and other waste materials (Quinn, 2020). Dehydration can cause a number of symptoms including headaches, sleepiness, muscle weakness, dry mouth, lack of focus, or more severe problems such as digestive problems, confusion, low serotonin production, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and more. It is easier for viruses and bacteria to take over when you have a dry mouth. It is also important to note, we can become dehydrated from consuming too much sugar and salty foods. View how much water you should drink based on weight.
I found the best way for me to drink enough water is to have a large stainless steel water bottle that I use throughout the day. I know exactly how many times I need to fill it up to drink enough water. But, sometimes my body does need more.
2. Eating Healthy is a MUST for Good Immune Health
The worst foods for your immune system include processed foods, sugars, sodas, refined carbohydrates (which are processed as sugar), and alcohol. The immune system can be weak for 5 hours after consuming 75 grams of sugar according to this nutrition study. You want to eat more vegetables and fruits. Eat a colorful, variety of vegetables to make sure you are getting lots of different vitamins and nutrients. Poor diet: Malnutrition or a diet lacking in one or more nutrients can impair the production and activity of immune cells and antibodies (Harvard T.H. Chan).
Foods containing probiotics are also awesome for immune health. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in our digestive tract and help digest food, synthesize vitamins and support our immune systems (Larson, 2019). This article offers a great list of probiotic-rich foods: Boost your immune system and fight colds with probiotics.
3. Sleep is ESSENTIAL for Immune Health
When we sleep, our bodies produce a protein called cytokines, which target infection and inflammation, creating an immune response (UC Health, 2020). The body also creates T-cells (white blood cells) during sleep which are essential to immune responses. On average, most people need about seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Consistency in sleep is also important as the body releases hormones during sleep cycles that are needed for optimal health.
4. Managing Stress is SUPER Important for Immune health
This is the number one thing that will usually weaken my immune system. We all get stressed at some point, it is unavoidable. What matters is how we manage our stress. If you eat poorly because you are stressed, you don’t sleep well and don’t take time for self-care your chances of getting sick greatly increase. If you let your stress stick around for a while, your immune system is going to get weak. In some cases, when dealing with death, money problems, severe illness, etc., stress may be unavoidable. So you have to just find ways to manage it. The immune system has a harder time fighting off antigens (bacteria, viruses) when the body is stressed. The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system (e.g. lowers the number of lymphocytes) (McLeod, 2010).
5. Immune Boosting Supplements
I actually don’t like offering an opinion on this since I’m not a health care practitioner. So it’s best to do your own research. However, what I do know is many of us are deficient in some type of vitamin or mineral we need. But, there is mixed information out there as to what vitamins we absolutely should be taking on a regular basis.
It is a good idea to take vitamins you are deficient in, and some say a multivitamin is good to take on a regular basis. But getting vitamins from your food is still better.
One of the few things that most natural doctors agree on is Vitamin D. If you haven’t heard taking Vitamin D is super helpful to our immune system, and most of our society is Vitamin D deficient. Just remember, anything you take should be from whole food sources. Don’t bother with the synthetic stuff your body doesn’t absorb it properly, and it could actually be harmful. Not all vitamins are the same.
Taking Extra Precautions When Your Immune System is Weak & Paying Attention to Signs it is Weak
A Perfectly, Strong Immune System is Impossible
There is no such thing as a perfect immune system. Not even the healthiest person in the world can keep their immune system strong all the time. Because even if they eat no sugar, no processed carbs, stress will surely get them. None of us can avoid stress completely. We need to be able to handle stress effectively and limit how much we get stressed, but sometimes there is no escaping it. In addition, many people are going to eat too much sugar and processed carbs at a time, have sleep struggles and end up with a weakened immune system. A weakened immune system is unavoidable. Yet some people can go years without even getting the sniffles. Why?
It is due to awareness of when their body is weak followed up by self-care. I don’t consider myself that crazy healthy person, but together my husband and I haven’t been sick in almost four years now. We are very aware of when our bodies are weak. There are two situations I pay close attention to.
How I Take Care of My Body When it is Weak
The first situation I pay attention to is when I haven’t slept well in 2-3 nights (possibly due to stress), and even with caffeine, I’m not functioning well. Or maybe I feel weak after a couple of days of eating too much sugar and processed carbs. So when I know my body is weak, I’m going to make time to relax, eat more vegetables, and less processed food. I will also go to bed early to get extra sleep whether or not I’m just stressed or actually sleep-deprived. I will also wash my hands more (especially in January and February which seems to be flu season around here).
The second situation is where I actually feel sickness coming on… I may have a scratchy throat, or I just feel so weak that simple everyday tasks feel difficult. I’m just craving a horizontal position on the couch. This is where all those things I said about letting the germs in goes out the window. Instead, I’m going to wash my hands more often, avoid people who are sick, avoid large groups of people, or maybe avoid people altogether. The day will consist of relaxing, eating super healthy, avoiding sugars and processed carbs. I might make a super healthy veggie/fruit smoothie (juicing is also a great idea). I’m also going to go to bed early.
But, that’s not all!
Supplements to the Rescue!
Many people who almost never get sick, also take supplementation when they feel an illness coming. There are many great supplements out there that work as immune boosters. The one I love to take is Wellness Formula (might not be safe depending on what other supplements or medications you take, check with your doctor). It is packed full of vitamins and herbs that are known to be awesome for immune health including elderberry, echinacea, ginger, zinc, astragalus root, and Vitamin C. View benefits of these here. The sicker I feel, the more I will take (of course following the directions on the bottle). I always take them with me on vacation because the last thing I want is to be sick on a vacation, especially when flying. My husband and I will take them as soon as we get off the plane, or before, and maybe even the day after.
I think I almost got sick 3 or 4 times last year, and every time my self-care and supplementation saved me. By the next day, I felt fine. If I still feel a little off though, I do extra self-care and supplementation the next day. Also, taking probiotics either in food form or in supplement form is awesome at helping the body defend off bad germs.
All of this is what has worked well for me. There is no exact science to keeping your immune system strong, but there is science behind what helps and what hurts.
Do You Notice When Your Body is Weak?
Do you notice when you are sick, your body was weak from Stress? Sleep-deprivation? Eating bad? I know some people are a bit unaware of how much sugar they consume, so you have to have an understanding of that first. If you have a general awareness of how your body is doing, you can probably tell when your immune system is weak, you can probably tell when you’re on the verge of getting sick. Sickness doesn’t usually just come out of nowhere and stab you in the back. Yes, you can actually defend it off. It is very possible. There are no guarantees, but the greater your awareness is and the greater your self-care habits are the less your chances are of getting sick.
I feel like our society is way too busy, life sometimes moves too fast, and many of us don’t pay attention to what our bodies need. If you don’t pay attention, it’s a great time to start!
You NEED GERMS! I suggest not hiding from them unless your body is weak. Let the germs in when your immune system is strong, take care of your body so it doesn’t get weak, and then if it does – take extra care of your body. But, getting slightly sick isn’t a bad thing. Your body learns from it!
View ALL my Flaws in Healthcare Blogs:
CDC/Biggest Threats and Data. (2021, March 2). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/biggest-threats.html#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20report%2C%20more,people%20die%20as%20a%20result
NIH (National Library of Medicine)/The impact of bisphenol A and triclosan on immune parameters in the U.S. population, NHANES 2003-2006. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21062687/
Garcia, Nicholas. Lifehack/5 Reasons Why Overusing Hand Sanitizer Isn’t Good For You. (2020, September 4). Retrieved from: https://www.lifehack.org/288545/5-reasons-you-shouldnt-use-hand-sanitizer-anymore
HUFFPOST/ You Might Be Washing Your Hands Too Often. Retrieved from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/washing-hands-too-much_n_5b7b0141e4b0a5b1febdce5f
Levy, Jillian. (2021, April 24). Dr. Axe/5 Natural Treatments for Dehydration Symptoms. Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/health/dehydration-symptoms/?utm_campaign=feed-posts&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_content=draxe&fbclid=IwAR3ytgBw0GjSEvNVgZjE28kNyIE5pPzy_g_ptNqwqCmAwkAi8sR0BNESrmE
Harvard T.H. Chan/Nutrition and Immunity. Retrieved from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/nutrition-and-immunity/#:~:text=Poor%20diet%3A%20Malnutrition%20or%20a,and%20potentially%20disable%20immune%20cells.
Larson, Jean. (2019, January 16). Essentia Health/Boost your immune system and fight colds with probiotics. Retrieved from: https://www.essentiahealth.org/about/media-article-library/2019/boost-your-immune-system-and-fight-colds-with-probiotics/#:~:text=Probiotics%20are%20beneficial%20bacteria%20that,impact%20of%20the%20common%20cold.
UC Health/Creating Better Sleep Habits to Strengthen Immunity. (2020, April 15). Retrieved from: https://www.uchealth.com/en/media-room/covid-19/better-sleep-habits-to-strengthen-immunity
Quinn, Maggie. (2020, April 13). Susan Sumueli (Integrative Health Institute)/Stay Well-Hydrated for a Strong Immune System. Retrieved from: https://ssihi.uci.edu/tip/hydration-for-immune-system/
McLeod, S. A. (2010). Stress, illness and the immune system. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html
Welsh, Paige. Total Health Nutrition Center/PRACTICAL WAYS TO STAY HEALTHY AND KEEP YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM STRONG. Retrieved from: https://www.totalhealthinc.com/Resources/Articles/immune-system-strong
I am a business owner, marketer, innovator, writer, and artist. I have a passion for wellness with a wealth of knowledge surrounding: wellness, flaws in healthcare, root causes for chronic illnesses, and alternative treatments. My expertise includes over 5 years of marketing, research, and developing content for holistic health businesses. Plus, my own personal journey of becoming chronically sick: understanding what went wrong, and finding a way to heal and live a healthier life.