Sometimes we feel under the weather. We all accept the reality of a society where being ill is something we simply need to power through. Every day, Americans disregard their health to focus on other priorities that cannot be neglected. However, the more we disregard maintaining our overall health, the more complex our issue becomes. After a certain point, the systems of our bodies that protect against disease and bacteria become overworked if we do not take measures to overcome our ailments. When our immune system becomes compromised, there are several telltale signs that let us know that something is amiss.
What is the Immune System?
Since we were children, we have heard about our immune systems, being told about how our body tries to fight off whatever is not supposed to be in it. However, our doctors and parents did little to explain the specifics of our immune systems to us. The short explanation is that our immune system is a combination of specific organs, cells, and chemicals that fend off foreign microbes. Our immune systems have seven major components:
- White Blood Cells: Essentially the front line of defense, white blood cells are manufactured in our bone marrow. They patrol our bloodstream and tissue for any microbes (Bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi.) and attack any they find.
- Antibodies: Antibodies are proteins that our bodies manufacture after being exposed to antigens. After being created, antibodies seek out the antigen they are related to and fight them off to prevent the body from relapsing to a condition or infection we have already suffered.
- Complement System: Composed of a series of proteins, the complement system’s function is to act as a support for our antibodies. It’s responsible for buffing them up to better combat recognized antigens.
- Lymphatic System: A collection of tissue and organs networked throughout our bodies, the lymphatic system plays multiple roles in the maintenance of our bodies. It is made up of lymph nodes for trapping microbes, lymph vessels that carry lymph fluid full of white blood cells, and the white blood cells themselves are technically a component. Our lymphatic system manages the level of fluids in our bodies, reacts to harmful bacteria, seeks to eliminate cancer cells and cell products that induce diseases, and absorbs fats from our intestines.
- Spleen: A major organ, the spleen filters out blood and purges microbes from it, and destroys old or damaged red blood cells. It is also responsible for the manufacture of anti-disease components like lymphocytes and antibodies.
- Bone Marrow: A spongy tissue within our bones, our marrow is responsible for the manufacture of red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight infection, and platelets to aid in blood clotting.
- Thymus: A primary lymphoid organ, the thymus oversees the content of our blood and manufactures special white blood cells called T-lymphocytes.
Our immune systems are an extraordinary and complex example of biological engineering. If even one detail of our immune system falls out of line, the health of our entire body becomes compromised. However, it can be difficult to tell when our immune systems are compromised in any way. Luckily, there are several signs you can watch for which may indicate a weakened immune system.
The First Sign: Lethargy
One of the first and most common signs of a weakened immune system is exhaustion and lethargy. If you wake up feeling even more worn out than when you went to bed, the odds are high that something is amiss with your health. The reason for lethargy when your immune system is compromised is easily explained.
When our body is coping with infection, it relies on our immune system to compensate for the degraded physical state. Our immune system takes energy from the rest of our body and dedicates it to fighting the infection. If our immune system is being overworked, our bodies do not recover as energy is constantly redirected toward our immune system. As a result of our immune system’s inability to overcome the ailment due to being overworked and it’s poor maintenance, our bodies suffer from the strain. This manifests in the chronic exhaustion and lethargy associated with a compromised immune system.
The Second Sign: Hampered Respiration
If our immune system is compromised or weakened compared to the average, healthy adult, we become more susceptible to even the most mundane illnesses. A sign of that weakened immune system manifests in the frequent relapse of bacterial infection.
If you frequently get chills, cough, have a running nose, or catch the flu more than once a year, it is likely due to your immune system being unable to fight them off. The most common condition, rhinoviruses such as the common cold, are usually easily beaten back by a healthy and well-maintained immune system. But if your immune system is compromised, it cannot produce white blood cells to combat the infection.
Thus, when your breathing is hampered on an ongoing basis, it means something is out of balance in your immune system.
The Third Sign: Slow Healing
You might not be aware, but our immune systems are integral to the regeneration of our skin after being wounded. There are four central stages in the process of healing a flesh wound:
- Hemostasis: The stopping of a flow of blood. This translates to the clotting effect of the platelets manufactured by our bone marrow.
- Inflammation: The swelling of a localized area of the body in response to injury or infection. Inflammation is a physical sign that the body is healing itself.
- Proliferation: The rapid recreation of cells. Our spleen is responsible for replacing any damaged cells in the process of healing. It must do so at a rapid pace to maintain the balance of our body.
- Remodeling: This is the physical reconstruction of our flesh following injury.
Each of these phases relies on the immune system’s array of organs to be executed properly. If your immune system has been weakened or compromised, the healing process gets stunted. Your body will take longer and longer to heal physical injuries the longer your immune system remains in disarray.
The Fourth Sign: Infection
Relating to the second sign listed above, the immune system is meant to fight off the infection before it becomes a recurring issue. This means that it is extremely unusual for the body to have to overcome the same disease more than once or twice per year. Your bone marrow produces white blood cells to combat an infection, and then the immune system manufactures antibodies tailored to that specific infection to prevent a relapse. This is how vaccines work; they train the immune system to combat an infection, so it is prepared if it runs into the disease in the wild.
However, an overtaxed or compromised immune system may be unable to produce those antibodies efficiently and be forced to deploy more white blood cells to fight the infection instead since it never learned to prevent the issue.
If you are suffering from an infection from the same source multiple times a year (Malaria, typhoid fever, respiratory infection), you should consult your physician. Your immune system may be signaling that its ability to perform its function has been compromised.
The Fifth Sign: Aches and Pains
If you feel physical discomfort and aches throughout your body, you might be thinking that it is utterly unrelated to any infection issue. You might even think you are simply suffering from a joint issue or arthritic onset that you can correct with other means. However, you could be wrong to make that assumption.
The truth is that aches in the muscles and joints are a part of the immune system’s response to infection. For your body to heal, it strains and rebuilds itself. This process of inflammation manifests as physical aches that are difficult to ignore. The inflammation itself signals a high level of monocytes (a type of white blood cell) in the afflicted region.
If you are suffering from these aches frequently and do not suffer from arthritis or other chronic conditions, it may be a sign that your immune system is unable to cope. With a weakened immune system, the monocytes are quickly depleted, and the body becomes chronically inflamed, trying to mend the damage, which leads to the constant pain.
The Sixth Sign: Intestinal Issues
If you find yourself constantly feeling nauseous, suffering from intense stomach pain, or suffering diarrheal episodes, it may be a sign of a weakened immune system. Your intestinal microorganisms, colloquially known as your “gut biome,” are a major player in your immune system.
The intestinal microorganisms send signals to the rest of the immune system, directing white blood cells to your stomach to fend off infection. When these microbes are destroyed, hostile microbes take their place and overpopulate your intestine. These hostile microbes irritate your intestines and induce nausea and diarrhea, and in the process, the signals from your intestines to fight off the microbial infestation are lost. The overall immune system is compromised. This leads to the intestinal issues becoming a chronic and irritating symptom.
The Seventh Sign: Stress
Probably the most unexpected sign to see on this list, stress is a brutal symptom of immune deficiency. While other symptoms like nausea and aches can be treated to a degree with supplementary medication, stress is not so easily relieved.
Stress, as a symptom of a compromised immune system, is the release of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that your body releases when stressed to help the body cope. However, the chronic release of cortisol in an individual who suffers from chronic stress will see a decrease in their lymphocyte T-cells. Since these lymphocytes are the main force against infection, a dip in their numbers leads to your immune system weakening and opening itself up to infection from conditions like the dreaded COVID-19 novel Coronavirus.
The Eight Sign: Fever
One of the most obvious signs of being ill is a high fever and is the first sign of an oncoming infection. While fevers are commonly associated with virtually every infection and common illness in the book, it is also a good indicator to take a good, hard look at your immune system’s status.
If the fever you suffer is sudden and high in temperature, it could be a sign of a severe infection. If these fevers are chronic and occur more often than you would see in others, it is a sign that your immune system is having difficulty fending off the microbes that induce them.
What Can be Done?
If you find yourself wrestling with these symptoms and have confirmed that your immune system is struggling, you might be feeling distraught. The immune system is not a single entity, so repairing it requires understanding exactly where the issue lies. Generally, a lifestyle change can help boost your immune system and give it the time it needs to heal. There are several changes to your routine that can bolster your immune system:
- Avoid or quit smoking.
- Increase the intake of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Only consume alcohol in moderation if not abstain altogether.
- Get the required amount of sleep.
- Take precautions against infection, such as washing your hands.
- Minimize your stress.
- Keep up with your vaccinations.
While these tips may boost your immune system, there is no guarantee they will fully salvage an already weakened immune system. There exist supplements that might also help boost your immune system and prevent it from weakening. We even offer our own product designed to support a healthy immune system, especially during cold and flu season.
Your immune system is an invaluable component of your body. It manufactures the cells and proteins you need to overcome infection and disease and keeps you healthy and alive. You quite simply cannot function without one. If you notice any of these signs of illness or frequently relapse into old ailments, you should consult with your physician. It might be worthwhile to have your immune system evaluated.
Even if you are not suffering from any of these signs or symptoms, it is never a bad idea to take steps to boost and maintain your immune system. Drink plenty of water and get at least eight hours of sleep. If you are debating whether to snack on an apple or a candy bar, choose the former. Exercise regularly and try to lead as healthy a lifestyle as physically possible, and your immune system should be completely fine.