The immune system is a lot more complex than we often give it credit for – a fascinating network of cells, organs, proteins and tissues with a very important job: to protect the body from outside invaders, like bacteria, viruses and parasites.

It’s working away in the background continuously and many different factors play a role in how it functions, including number of things in our day-to-day lifestyles.

While avoiding bugs (with good hand-washing, etc) is one of the single most important things for keeping winter bugs at bay, our own habits and lives can also play a part in supporting our immune system – as well as possibly doing it no favours at all.

Here’s five ways you might be sabotaging your immune system…

It’s common knowledge smoking has a harmful effect on many different areas of the body, and the delicate balance of the immune system is no different.

“Smoking increases inflammation in the body, which can eventually lead to chronic inflammatory disorders, such as heart disease, asthma and arthritis” explains Emily Rollason, senior nutritionist at Holland & Barrett.

“Smoking can also reduce absorption and usage of certain nutrients that are beneficial for immune system support, such as Vitamins B12, C and D; in fact, it’s well known that smokers have higher requirements for these nutrients.”

Rollason says quitting smoking is not only beneficial for your heart and lungs, but also vital to ensure your body can make a good recovery when it encounters a winter bug. Speak to a healthcare professional if you are looking to quit, as they can talk to you about ways they can support you through the process.

Not getting enough sleep
Missing out on good quality sleep is something that affects us in more ways than we realise. “Getting the right amount of sleep is extremely important, particularly when it comes to the adaptive immune response,” says Rollason.

Rollason explains that the adaptive response is basically when the body stores a ‘memory’ of any previous invading pathogens, in order to help fight it off again in the future. The cells required for these processes are regulated and activated during sleep.

“The body follows a natural internally regulated sleep and wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm, and there’s evidence to support that many cells in the immune system also follow this rhythm, with certain cells peaking during nocturnal sleep,” Rollinson adds.

She adds that our bodies also burn lots of energy when combating or recovering from illness, so sleep is really important in helping to fight off any bugs you encounter throughout the day. PA