Whether or not you take a concoction of vitamins each morning and gobble all of your greens, everyone gets ill from time to time. Regardless of the time of year, nasty viruses and bacteria find their way into our bodies and make us sick. But some people, even people who lead perfectly healthy lifestyles, can get sick more often than others. A new study, published June 2023, investigates why.
In an interview with Scientific American (1), the paper’s lead author and professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Dr. Sunil Ahuja revealed some of the reasons why sickness hits some more than others. Firstly, some of us are more genetically predisposed to infection. Secondly, some environments have a ‘heavy burden of infection’, if there are say, no vaccines, lower living standards and levels of sanitation. Thirdly, our immune systems operate at different levels.
Not All Immune Systems Are Equal
When our bodies encounter an infection, the site of injury or infection becomes inflamed. This inflammation - where the site gets red, swollen and warm - attracts white blood cells. White blood cells prevent the further spread of inflammation and allow for healing. However, as Dr. Ahuja explains, people’s bodies show variation in their response to infections:
"There are people who can be hyperinflamed and hypoinflamed. People vary in their amount of inflammation. In our study, being able to control inflammation and preserve immunocompetence was associated with being asymptomatic. Some people are infected yet don’t get sick because they had a really good inflammatory response."
Dr. Ahuja and his colleagues explore the concepts of Immune Resilience (IR) in a study they published last month in Nature (2). IR is the immune system’s ability to rapidly restore immune functions that ward off disease (immunocompetence), as well as control inflammation. In the study, they propose that people vary in their IR, and as a result, have different susceptibilities to getting sick. The study found that people whose immune systems are able to resist the degradation of their IR are at lower risk of HIV, AIDS, influenza, and skin cancer, have higher chances of survival during COVID-19 and sepsis, and are also more likely to live longer.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for preventing you from getting sick from an infection, and even people with the strongest immune systems can become ill. However, scientists encourage the following common sense and science-based steps that make sure your immune system can function optimally:
Looking After Your Immune System1. Ditch Smoking
Cigarette smokers have weakened immunity and are particularly vulnerable to respiratory infections since cigarette smoke and nicotine are immunosuppressants (3). Research also shows that smokers secrete significantly lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines: proteins that help coordinate your immune system's response in fighting off infection (4)
2. Eat A Balanced Diet
A well-balanced healthy diet is vital for immune health. Make sure you are covering all your nutritional bases and are eating enough fruit and vegetables as malnutrition increases severity and risk of infection. For delicious recipes from in-the-know nutritionists that will both support your immune system and satisfy your taste-buds, head over to our Instagram. And there is some truth to the time-old adage of ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’: Pink Lady apples have the highest polyphenol content in their skins, to help combat heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
3. Get Good Shut Eye
Getting a good night's sleep is crucial for optimising your ability to fight off infection as our immune systems have been found to produce more cytokines while we sleep (5). A study found that participants who had slept for less than six hours a night were four times more likely to develop a cold than participants who slept seven or more hours, after being administered nasal drops containing rhinovirus (6). Not getting enough sleep may therefore make us more susceptible to getting sick.
If you find it difficult to drift off to sleep and are worried about this having an impact on your immune health, taking 1 or 2 Leapfrog SNOOZE tablets before bed may help you wind down. The Lactium® in these supplements increases the flow of the calming neurotransmitter GABA, while also reducing levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. SNOOZE can help put the brakes on an overactive mind and allow for a more restful night of sleep.
4. Exercise Regularly
Not only does exercising regularly help you sleep, but as Dr. Ahuja explains in his interview: "People who maintain regular sustained exercise, not just periodic exercise, are afforded immune benefits" (1). A review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (7) reviewed 16 studies of the effects of staying physically active during the pandemic. The review found a decreased risk of COVID-19 infection, and a decrease in the severity of COVID-19 cases among those who exercised regularly. Scientists theorise that regular exercise may help increase the circulation of immune cells (8) as well as the release of cytokines (9). But don’t worry, you don’t have to start training for a marathon. Committing to 'short and often' bouts of movement can be just as effective in boosting our immune system. Check out our post all about bitesize exercise for immunity HERE
5. Get Your Vitamins, Minerals and Nutrients
Zinc supplements, such as Leapfrog IMMUNE, ensure that you are getting enough of this mighty immunity-boosting mineral. Zinc plays a key role in the immune system, with a diet deficient in zinc leading to low levels of B cells and the antibodies that protect us from harmful pathogens (10). Taking Zinc supplements has also been linked to a reduction in the rate of respiratory infections and the duration of their symptoms (11).
Vitamin C and D are immunity-boosting vitamins. Vitamin C works by encouraging your body to produce white blood cells, therefore improving resistance to infection. Vitamin D supplements have been found to significantly reduce the risk of acute respiratory infection, according to a meta-analysis of 25 randomised controlled trials (12).
Lactoferrin is one of the key substances found in body fluids such as saliva and breast milk, playing a crucial role in defence against invading pathogens. Lactoferrin supplements, including Leapfrog IMMUNE, can prevent infections as well as reduce the duration of their symptoms. A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials found that Lactoferrin reduced the risk of respiratory tract infections and helped manage symptoms and recovery from them (13).
Leapfrog IMMUNE chewable tablets are perfect for supporting your immune system as they are packed with lactoferrin, zinc and vitamin C. We recommend that you take one tablet every day, one month on, one month off over a season for continued immune support.
Work On Your Wellbeing
Whether or not we get sick depends on a number of factors, not all of which are in our control. A healthy lifestyle cannot guarantee immunity from all illness, however it can ensure our immune system is as equipped as possible to deal with any health threats. Therefore, for optimum immune function you should follow the simple and practical steps of not smoking, eating healthily, exercising regularly, and ensuring your body is getting enough sleep and nutrients.
By Phoebe Lund Newlyn