10 Surprising Ways to Damage Your Immune System

By Rachael Bieschke

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Your immune system is your body’s primary defense against disease. Made up of millions of cells, tissues and organs, this protective system can recognize millions of foreign invaders and launch an effective attack to rid them from your body.

If the invader is a bacteria, your immune system may attach antibodies to it and launch special cells to destroy it. If it’s a virus, immune system cells may also attach to it and stop it from entering your cells, or kill it if it does. In other cases, such as in the case of certain parasites, your immune system may surround the invader in order to abolish it from your body.

Your immune system is, in short, a pathogen-busting machine … but all of this is dependent on it functioning optimally.

It’s well known that everyone who is exposed to a germ will not get sick. The determining factor is often the state of your immune system. Keep yours healthy and you’ll get sick less often … but many of us are unknowingly doing things that may harm your immune system’s ability to keep you well.

If you’re engaging in the 10 habits that follow, stop! They may be damaging your immune system.

  1. You Avoid Socializing: People with more friends get sick less often and fight off cold-causing viruses better than those with fewer friends.
  1. You Stay Up Late: Poor sleep is linked to lower immune function and reduced numbers of germ-fighting immune cells.
  1. You’re a Pessimist: Optimists have more helper T cells, which boost immune response, and more powerful natural killer cells, than pessimists.
  1. You Fight Dirty: Couples who use sarcasm, insults and put-downs have fewer virus-fighting natural killer cells, and take longer to recover from injuries, than those who stay positive during arguments.
  1. You’re Stressed: Chronic stress is linked to significant declines in immune function.
  1. You Don’t Carry a Pen: Every public object you touch, including pens, may expose you to illness-causing germs that stress your immune system. Carry your own pen to avoid one more exposure.
  1. You’re Inactive: Exercise is known to boost immune function while inactive people tend to get sick more often than those who walk daily.
  1. Your Friends Smoke: Secondhand smoke can cause respiratory tract infections, asthma attacks and allergy symptoms, adding another burden to your immune system.
  1. You Take Antibiotics: Antibiotics may suppress certain aspects of your immune system, including cytokines, your immune system’s hormone messengers.
  1. You’re Too Serious: Positive emotions associated with laughter may increase and activate immune system cells while simply watching a funny video may increase your immune system activity.