The immune system is the body’s defense against bacteria, viruses, and other potentially harmful infections. In someone without these defense systems or with a weak immune system, there is a higher likelihood of getting an infection that the body cannot fight off. The infection may be more difficult to treat in someone with a weak immune system. Weak immune system symptoms include frequently getting infections and acquiring infections that a person with a strong immune system would not get, such as pneumonia, meningitis, bronchitis, and skin infections.3
The immune system may be weakened by genetic disorders, called autoimmune deficiencies. Blood disorders or abnormalities may also weaken it. More commonly, things such as smoking, alcohol use, poor nutrition, certain medications, and infections like flu, mono, and measles weaken the immune system.5
People with immune system disorders are more likely to have frequent infections, some of which can be serious and potentially life-threatening. Immune system disorder symptoms may include infections that affect the gastrointestinal tract which can lead to digestive issues, such as decreased appetite, diarrhea, and stomach cramping. Other common infections may involve the sinuses, ears, or lungs.2
Primary immunodeficiency is an immune disorder that is inherited and results from genetic mutations present at birth and diagnosed in childhood. Some examples of primary immunodeficiency disorders include TIDM, RA, Lupus.4 Over 300 immune system diseases have been identified by researchers. Type one diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus are some examples of genetic immune system disease.2
Secondary immunodeficiency is an immune disorder that occurs as a result of environmental factors, such as HIV, malnutrition, or medical therapy. Secondary immunodeficiency disorders are more common than primary immunodeficiency disorders.
A compromised immune system occurs when the immune system is weakened. A variety of things may cause a compromised immune system, such as illness, infection, malnutrition, surgery, or medications such as chemotherapy.2
Immune system disorders diminish the immune system’s functioning. This makes it more difficult for the body to fight off attacks from bacteria, viruses, and fungi.2
A blood test can be done to determine if someone has a weak immune system. Blood tests analyze the amount of infection-fighting proteins, known as immunoglobulins, in blood compared to that of a healthy individual. Blood tests also measure the number of immune system cells and blood cells. Immune system defects are determined by an abnormal number of specific immune cells. Another function of these tests is to see if the body’s immune system is responding normally and creating proteins that identify and eliminate foreign pathogens like bacteria or viruses.6
Researchers have found a link between excessive alcohol use and immune-related health effects. Alcohol lowers the immune system by causing harm to the cells of the gut barrier wall. The harm caused interferes with the immune system’s pathways. Alcohol’s effects substantially weaken the body’s immune system, allowing for an increased risk of infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis, respiratory syncytial virus, and acute respiratory distress syndrome.7
Antibiotics are used to fight off a bacterial infection, but in doing so they alter the infectious microenvironment within the body. While eliminating the harmful bacteria, antibiotics wipe out some beneficial bacteria as well. This change in the bacterial environment in the body may decrease the effectiveness of the immune system.8
Eating or drinking too much sugar lowers the immune system. The negative impact sugar has on the immune system may last for up to five hours after consuming sugar.1
Sugar lowers the effectiveness of the immune system by decreasing the activity of the body’s white blood cells, specifically the neutrophils, to engulf bacteria. Neutrophils are an imperative component of the body’s defense system, so hindering their function negatively impacts the job of the immune system. Consuming sugar was shown to reduce the function of the immune system cells, but not the overall number of immune cells. These effects occur almost immediately after the ingestion of sugars and last for hours afterward.1
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