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Low ImmunityAlso known as Immune deficiency
Our body has a natural mechanism to fight against invading organisms and prevent serious infections. The inbuilt immune system is the body’s first line of defense against any foreign infections. If for some reason, the body’s immune defenses are weakened, there is an increased risk of being seriously affected by even the simplest of infections.
The white blood cells, specifically the neutrophils, the B-lymphocytes, and the T-lymphocytes, play a crucial role in fighting off infections. The condition in which the body’s immune system does not perform efficiently is called low immunity.
Immunodeficiency can be genetic or acquired. A person suffering from low immunity contracts frequent infections that can turn deadly. Adopting a healthy lifestyle involving a well balanced diet, exercise, minimal stress, etc., can strengthen your immune system and protect you by fighting off various diseases naturally.
- All age groups
- Both men and women
- Immune System
- Lymph nodes
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Supplements for nutritional deficiencies: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D & Zinc
- Antiviral medicines: Oseltamivir phosphate, Zanamivir & Acyclovir.
- Antibiotics: Penicillin, Tetracycline & Azithromycin
- Antifungals: Clotrimazole, Ketoconazole & Miconazole
- Anti-retroviral drugs: Abacavir, Emtricitabine & Lamivudine
- Chemotherapy drugs: Docetaxel, Ixabepilone & Paclitaxel
- Anti-diabetic drugs: Metformin, Dapagliflozin & Glipizide
- Human normal immunoglobulin
- Interferon-gamma preparations
- Donor plasma
- Bone marrow or stem transplantation
- HIV specialist
Symptoms Of Low Immunity
The primary symptom of a weakened immune system is susceptibility to infection. You may be suffering from low immunity if you have the following symptoms:
Frequent infections of the
Respiratory tract, such as bronchitis, sinusitis, pneumonia.
Gastrointestinal tract, causing vomiting, diarrhea.
Urinary tract which causes a burning sensation or passing blood with urination and other symptoms of infections, such as rashes, etc.
Infections that are considered mild among the general population may often present with severe symptoms in immunocompromised individuals.
Abnormal blood counts such as low platelets or low white blood cells.
Chronic fatigue, tiredness, and breathlessness are also common in patients with low immunity.
A person with a weakened immune system is likely to get infections more frequently than most other people, and these illnesses might be more severe or harder to treat. Infections that people with a weak immune system often get include pneumonia, meningitis, bronchitis, and skin diseases. Moreover, these infections may recur with a high frequency.
Additionally, people with a weak immune system may be more likely to experience:
Inflammation of the internal organs
Blood disorders or abnormalities, such as anemia
Digestive issues, including loss of appetite, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping
Growth and developmental delays in infants and children.
Causes Of Low Immunity
A person may have low immunity by birth due to genetic abnormalities, or it may be acquired in later life due to various causes.
The immune system is the protective mechanism of the body .It attacks the disease causing organisms,like bacteria, viruses and fungi. The immune system comprises various types of white blood cells. Each white blood cell type has specialized functions. Sometimes genetic mutations can affect the immune system and thereby cause immunodeficiency.
In primary immunodeficiency, from the time of birth, the immune system of a child does not function properly and cannot ward off infections. Due to a compromised immune system, these children fall ill frequently and for longer durations of time. They are also susceptible to infection from normal harmless organisms. Most primary immunodeficiencies are not fatal, however it is still essential to diagnose and treat them early so that they do not become life threatening.
These are acquired immune system defects that can occur due to conditions, such as:
1. Lifestyle factors
Poor sanitation: Lack of sanitation is a major health blockade which is linked to transmission of a wide spectrum of diseases which lower the body’s immunity. These include diseases like cholera, diarrhoea, typhoid, dysentery, intestinal helminth infections, hepatitis A etc.
Malnutrition: Protein deficit diets are the major cause of secondary immunodeficiency especially in the developing world. Malnutrition is not just a deficiency of calories, but it can also be a deficiency of one or more essential nutrients. Two nutrients that are particularly important to immunity, calcium and zinc, are more commonly deficient in the older population. However, this form of immunodeficiency will usually resolve if the malnutrition is treated.
Stressful lifestyle: When we are stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off infections is reduced. The stress hormone can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system and make one more prone to infections.
Lack of exercise: Modern sedentary lifestyle severely restricts the immune capacity of the body.
2. Health conditions
Cancer: Various types of cancer and treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy or radiation, can cause immunosuppression.
HIV/AIDS: HIV, which causes AIDS, is an acquired viral infection that destroys important white blood cells and weakens the immune system. People with HIV/AIDS can become seriously ill with infections that most people can fight off. These infections are called “opportunistic infections”.
Diabetes mellitus: People with diabetes mellitus have low immunity and are more susceptible to infections, as high blood sugar levels can weaken the patient's immune system defenses. In addition, some diabetes related problems, like nerve damage and reduced blood flow to the extremities, increase the body's vulnerability to infection.
COVID and low immunity
Coronavirus, as we all are aware, is a novel virus that affects the respiratory system and the immune system. When you contract an infection, your immune system produces certain protective proteins that fight the pathogen and help you recover from the infection. These proteins are called antibodies.
After people recover from infection with a virus, the immune system retains a memory of it. Immune cells and proteins that circulate in the body can recognize and kill the pathogen if it’s encountered again, protecting against disease and reducing illness severity. But the details of this immune response and how long it lasts after infection have been unclear. However, according to NIH, antibodies against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, were found in 98% of participants one month after symptom onset.
But if you have low immunity or suffer from pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, chronic lung disease, or heart disease, then the chances of getting infected are high. Moreover, it can also impact the severity of the infection, duration of illness, treatment types, and chances of recovery.
To boost your immunity against COVID-19, it is important to get vaccinated against the virus. And, to lower your chances of getting infected, wear a mask and follow COVID-appropriate behavior.
Here’s more on COVID-19 to know about!
Risk Factors For Low Immunity
You may be at risk of primary or secondary immunodeficiency if:
Your parents or a close family relative suffers from genetic abnormalities that cause low immunity.
You lead a poor lifestyle that includes lack of sanitation, poor diet, lack of exercise, physical or psychological stress. Moreover, it also increases the chances of diseases like diabetes and cancers.
You engage in unsafe sexual practices that can increase the risk of transmission of HIV.
Sharing needles, razors, etc., with others can increase the risk of transmission of HIV.
If you have undergone splenectomy, i.e., surgical removal of the spleen due to trauma, cirrhosis, or other health conditions. The spleen is an organ that removes (filters) old and damaged blood cells, produces antibodies that help fight infection, and stores blood cells.
Diagnosis Of Low Immunity
White blood cells are the mediators of the immune system. The easiest way to determine their count is by performing a complete blood count (CBC). Further, thorough studies may be required if any abnormalities are observed in the complete blood counts.
An immunity test package involves:
Complete blood count (CBC) to check for the values of various blood cells
Kidney function test to assess the health of kidney
Liver function test to assess the health of the liver
C-Reactive protein quantitative to check for any acute infection or inflammation
Thyroid profile total to check for hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism
Vitamin D (25-OH) to check for vitamin D deficiency
Iron deficiency profile to check for probable causes of anemia
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate to check for any ongoing inflammation in the body.
Infection profiling to detect the most potential immune markers like interleukin-6, procalcitonin, ferritin, d-dimer, etc to assess the body's immune response against infection. The elevated levels of these markers signify acute and chronic inflammatory diseases including Covid-19.
Additional studies may also be required, depending on the case.
Prevention Of Low Immunity
While genetic types of primary immunodeficiency or low immunity due to certain health conditions cannot be prevented, it is possible to prevent low immunity arising from a poor lifestyle. You can make the following changes to your lifestyle to stay healthy and have a robust immune system:
Take a wholesome diet rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Cut back on processed foods.
Drink plenty of water and fluids, such as fresh fruit juices and coconut water, as required throughout the day, and stay hydrated.
Establish a sound sleep schedule. Do not sleep during the day. Getting a sleep of 6-8 hours is crucial.
Cut down on caffeinated beverages and alcoholic beverages.
Exercise daily for at least 30-45 minutes. The exercises can be a mixture of aerobics and strengthening exercises.
Avoid getting in close contact with people who are sick
Indulge in wellness activities that promote physical and mental relaxation, such as those offered at a health spa.
Practice yoga or meditation. Learn to calm your stress and inculcate thoughts of positivity to keep anxiety away.
Additionally, here are a few recommendations for people with low immunity during the Covid-19 pandemic:
Stay at home if possible during the pandemic
Wash their hands frequently
Try to keep 6 feet away from other people
Clean and disinfect surfaces often
Seek medical help if health issues arise
Stay in touch with family, caregivers, and others who can help deliver necessary items and take action if the person gets sick
Our immunity is really a tricky entity. It is composed of various components like the good bacteria living in our stomach and the white blood cells that fight germs in our body. Doctors say that a weak immune system can also be partly genetic. However, all experts agree that the following simple steps can go a long way in strengthening one’s immunity.
Here are 10 ways to boost immunity with simple tips and tricks.
Specialist To Visit
If you suffer from recurrent bouts of infections, you may have low immunity. You may consult with your primary physician, who will evaluate you and refer you to specialists as appropriate. The specialist doctors for patients with low immunity and related conditions are:
Infectious Disease Specialist
Internal Medicine Specialist
Treatment Of Low Immunity
The treatment for low immunity is vast and consists of supplements for nutritional deficiencies to increase/strengthen the immune system, managing or preventing infections and treating specific underlying disorders.
Supplements for nutritional deficiencies
It is rightly said that no food or supplement can prevent illness. However, good nutritional supplements, including vitamins A, B6, B12, C, E, probiotics, protein, and zinc on a regular basis, may offer protection from seasonal illnesses and can be helpful in boosting immunity.
Here are a few supplements that are known to have immune-boosting potential:
Vitamin A : Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. It plays a critical role in maintaining vision, neurological function, healthy skin, and more. Taking supplements of vitamin A helps in reducing inflammation by free radical damage.
Vitamin B complex : It helps to support a healthy immune system by supporting cell health, maintaining energy levels and cardiovascular health.The Vitamin B complex consists of eight vitamins that work together to fight off germs and infection.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C functions as a powerful antioxidant, protecting against damage induced by oxidative stress, which occurs with the accumulation of reactive molecules known as free radicals. Taking supplements of vitamin C has been shown to increase immunity especially for upper respiratory tract infections, including the common cold.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is often called "the sunshine vitamin" because our bodies naturally produce it when we expose our skin to the sun. It is a fat-soluble nutrient essential to the health and functioning of your immune system.
Zinc : Zinc is needed for immune cell development, communication and plays an important role in the inflammatory response. This mineral is also helpful in preventing foreign pathogens from entering the tissue barriers.
Protein: Proteins are the backbone of the body's defence systems. Proteins are made up of amino acids that play a role in forging immunity.It is important to consume good quantity and quality of protein daily for the immune system to function at its best.
People with low immunity often battle infectious diseases due to bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Appropriate antimicrobial agents are used to treat these infections based on the causative organism such as:
Antiviral medicines: These drugs are used to treat viral infections as people with low immunity have higher chances of acquiring various virus infections. Antiviral drugs help to stop the viral replication and ease the symptoms. A few examples of antiviral drugs are oseltamivir phosphate, zanamivir, and acyclovir.
Antibiotics: People with a weak immune system have a higher risk of experiencing frequent bacterial infections. Antibiotics help in either killing or inhibiting the growth of bacteria. A few examples of antibiotics are penicillin, tetracycline, and azithromycin.
Antifungals: Fungal infections are also called opportunistic infections as they attack people with weakened immune systems. Antifungal drugs which are used to treat fungal infections work by damaging the cell wall of the fungus. A few examples of antifungal drugs are clotrimazole, ketoconazole and miconazole.
Supportive care for symptoms like fever, cough, etc., is given as needed.
Treatment of underlying disorder
The treatments for underlying disorders, such as cancer and HIV, are vast and differ from one case to another.
Anti-retroviral drugs are used to treat HIV infections. A few examples of antiretroviral drugs are abacavir, emtricitabine and lamivudine.
Chemotherapy drugs or others may be used, depending on the type of cancer. A few examples are docetaxel, ixabepilone and paclitaxel.
Anti-diabetic drugs like metformin, dapagliflozin and glipizide are used to manage diabetes mellitus.
Human normal immunoglobulin formulations are used to supplement the antibodies against a foreign infection.
Interferon-gamma preparations are synthetic interferons used to treat some types of primary immunodeficiency.
Donor plasma from a suitable donor who has antibodies against a particular infection is also used to treat life-threatening infections due to low immunity.
Bone marrow or stem cell transplantation are advised for treatment of primary immunodeficiencies.
Home Care For Low Immunity
You must take precautions to avoid catching an infection if you have poor immunity. If you are suffering from low immunity due to lifestyle disorders, making healthy changes can boost your immune system.
The following things can help if you are suffering from immunodeficiency:
Take a wholesome and balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals.
Drink an adequate quantity of fluids in the form of water, coconut water, buttermilk, clear soups, herbal teas throughout the day.
Establish a sound sleep schedule and get at least 6-8 hours of sleep. Avoid daytime naps. It is better to get 8 hours of sound sleep at night rather than catching up on sleep in bits and parts.
Exercise daily for at least 30-45 minutes.
Go out for a walk in the early morning sun to get your daily dose of vitamin D.
Reduce the excessive consumption of caffeinated drinks (especially in the evening) and alcohol.
Quit smoking and recreational drugs.
Wash hands often and thoroughly with soap and water, especially before meals and after visiting the washroom.
Wear a surgical mask while interacting with crowds.
Complications Of Low Immnuity
If low immunity is left untreated, it may lead to the occurrence of severe and life-threatening infections, such as pneumonia, meningitis, septicemia, etc. A person with low immunity usually suffers from recurrent infections and succumbs to them unless appropriate medical care is available at the right time. There is also an increased possibility of damage occurring to vital organs like the heart, lungs, liver, etc.
Alternative Therapies Of Low Immunity
Along with the medical treatments for the underlying health conditions, immunity can be boosted with several alternative therapies like:
Consuming a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients is an excellent way of providing the body with the fuel it needs to perform activities. Including vitamin C-rich foods in your diet like lemons, oranges, bell peppers, and gooseberries are an excellent way of boosting your immunity. A balanced diet ensures there are no vitamin or mineral deficiencies that can often result in low immunity. Drinking plenty of water and fluids like fresh fruit juices, coconut water, etc., keeps your body hydrated and refreshed.
Meditation and relaxation
Meditation can help channel and conserve the body’s energy. It helps overcome feelings of anxiety or stress, which are an important cause for altered immune function. Meditation and relaxation techniques also help promote a sense of overall health and wellbeing.
Exercise and yoga
Light exercises and yoga help boost the body's energy levels and are a great way of boosting your immunity. Performing various exercises, such as aerobics, muscle strengthening, yogasanas like Shalabhasana, Tadasana, Bakasana, etc., for at least 30-45 minutes every day is a good way to keep your body healthy and immune system robust.
Ayurveda has many remedies that can boost the immune system. Using herbs and spices, such as turmeric, ginger, garlic, etc., in day-to-day cooking, consuming decoctions or kadhas made from tulsi, cinnamon, black pepper, clove, honey, etc., are thought to boost immunity. Chyavanprash is an ayurvedic formulation famous for its immunity-boosting properties.
The role of Ayurvedic herbs to prevent and fight infections cannot be overemphasized to stay healthy and fit. Here are some commonly used ayurvedic herbs that can boost your immunity.
Homeopathic preparations in the form of oral drops/pills, such as Arsenicum album, Lycopodium, Rhus Toxicodendron, Sambucus nigra etc., are thought to be immunity-boosting. These are sometimes prescribed along with standard medicines to treat community outbreaks of infectious diseases.
Living With Low Immunity
Living with low immunity can be challenging. It affects one of the key systems of the body, making the body susceptible to severe and opportunistic infections. People with low immunity should take extra care of their hygiene and sanitation to prevent any kind of infection. Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially before meals and after visiting the washroom are basic but absolutely essential measures to be followed. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, consuming a wholesome and well balanced diet, adequate rest and sleep along with managing stress can help boost immunity and offer some protection to those with weakened defenses. Wearing a surgical mask while interacting with crowds is also necessary especially in the times of the Covid 19 pandemic. Lifelong treatments are usually essential for those with primary immunodeficiencies and conditions, such as HIV or cancer.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Cancer. World Health Organisation.
- HIV/AIDS. World Health Organisation.
- Types of Primary Immune Deficiency Diseases. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
- Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004 Jul;130(4):601-30.
- eiler A., Fagundes C.P., Christian L.M. (2020) The Impact of Everyday Stressors on the Immune System and Health. In: Choukèr A. (eds) Stress Challenges and Immunity in Space. Springer, Cham.
- Immunity Boosting Measures. Ministry Of Ayush.
- Guidelines for Homeopathy Practitioners for Covid-19. Ministry of Ayush.
- Childs CE, Calder PC, Miles EA. Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1933.