We all know the classic signs of an immune system gone haywire, namely: fever, cough, cold, diarrhea, and vomiting. However, there are some subtle signs and symptoms which we should be mindful of that can indicate that you may be coming down with something. Here are 6 signs and symptoms to not ignore and look out for:
Unexplained Fatigue - If you have had several sleepless nights or have been working 18 hour days when you used to be working 14 hours, it is normal to feel tired low energy. However, if you’ve been following your same work routine, and your diet and lifestyle have not changed much, then it could be a sign that your immune system is telling you something. Your energy level is closely linked with your level of immune health. When you feel unexplained fatigue, your body is conserving energy while it is trying to fight off some infection. It’s especially normal to feel tired with seasonal changes, as the body tries to recalibrate itself in a new “setting.” If, however, after several weeks you continue to experience exhaustion, you might want to consider boosting your immune system.
Headaches - There are many causes for headaches, some of which can be very serious. A common cause for headaches, however, is dehydration. All our cells, including immune cells, need adequate amounts of fluid to be fully functional. When we are dehydrated, our cells shrink in size and are not able to deliver oxygen and vital nutrients throughout the body. In the same way, dehydration leads to decreased amounts of immune cells available to fight infections in the body. On top of this, dehydration leads to stagnancy in the body, resulting in a buildup of viruses, bacteria, and other toxins in our tissues and organs, instead of being flushed out of the body.
Chapped Lips, Dry skin, Thickened mucous, White lines on Nails - These are all signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and particularly those that are associated with immune health: Vitamin A, C, Bs, and Zinc. It is important to do a self body check once a month to look for any changes on your skin including lesions, rashes, and dryness. Sometimes, these nutrient deficiencies appear at the skin level first, and if left untreated, can manifest as full blown bacterial or viral infections if the immune system is attacked.
Change in Bowel Habits and Gut Symptoms- Sudden onset of marked constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas suggests dysbiosis, among other possible conditions. Dysbiosis means that the gut flora is not balanced either due to a pathogen, or, due to some food that the body attacks as if it is a pathogen. In both cases, this can trigger a lot of inflammation, which ultimately weakens your immune system. If you haven’t already heard, over 70% of your immune system lies in your gut! So, if your gut flora are imbalanced in some way, your immune system is directly affected.
You’re Always Getting Sick - If you’re one of those who keeps getting sick multiple times a season, it may be because your immune system is functioning at a sub-optimal level. Whether it’s a cold that keeps coming back or a sinus infection that seems to have no cure, your body is giving you signs and telling you that it needs a boost!
Feeling Stressed - How many times have you noticed that right after a big exam or deadline you fall really sick? It’s because stress has a profound impact on your immune system, in a negative way. Sure, while you were studying or working intensely, you didn’t realize that you’ve had the sniffles for a couple of days or have had muscle cramps. That’s because you were driven by adrenaline. As soon as you completed your task, you - and your immune system - crashed. Stress decreases the number of immune cells being made, and more often than not, that’s the time when infections have started to take up space in your body.
Now that we’ve talked about a few signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for, let’s talk about ways we can boost the immune system. Here are my top 6:
Eat the rainbow. Okay, maybe you can’t literally eat the rainbow. But you can aim to get 5-6 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruits every day. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables ensures that you are getting all the vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes needed for your body to function optimally, and for the immune system to be fully equipped in case of foreign invaders.
Devote 30 to 60 minutes for “Me Time” everyday. For some, this may be sitting in silence and engaging in self-reflection, while for others, it may be painting or doing yoga. When you take time to take care of yourself, the body will do the same when called upon. As a society, we have come to treat the body like a machine. But every machine needs oiling and repairing from time to time. Likewise, our bodies need time to repair and rejuvenate itself.
Adequate sleep. For some, this is 6 hours. For others, this is 8 hours. The important thing to note, however, is to ensure that you are waking well rested. If you are waking up feeling tired, even after a full night’s sleep, perhaps you are having too many dreams, getting up to go to the bathroom, or even have a condition called sleep apnea - all of which are things you should get worked up for. Sleep is when our body makes new cells, grows, digests, and heals. If your sleep is disturbed chronically, overtime, it can lead to a weakened immune system.
Water, and preferably hot. Hydration, as we talked about earlier, is so important for removing wastes from our body. When you add lemon to hot water or drink herbal teas, you are giving your immune system an additional boost by increasing circulation in the body, helping your digestive system, and also thinning mucus!
Mindfulness - this can be part of your “Me Time,” but does not have to be. Mindfulness is a practice, not an activity. One of the most significant side effects of building a mindfulness practice is stress reduction. We know how much stress has a negative impact on our health, let alone our immune system. Mindfulness helps us focus on our breath and be in the present moment, which, overtime, has profound impact on decreasing stress.
Move. Stretch, Dance, Cardio, Strength Training, Weight Lifting - Anything. Movement releases endorphins - the happy hormones, which make you feel good for a long period of time. Whether you are moving to lose weight or because your physical therapist said you need to for your arthritis, movement stimulates your cells to work harder and better. You don’t need to have a fancy gym at home. All you really need, is some good music.