Immune System Function During and After Pregnancy

Hormones Strike Again!

That happy time of life called pregnancy has so many changes associated with it that it defies explanation. Of course, we are all aware that the primary "culprits" in the bulk of changes and challenges are hormones - they cause physiological changes, emotional changes and psychological changes. One of the big changes a woman experiences during pregnancy, and one she probably isn't even fully aware of, is the weakening of her immune system. Along with a weakened immune system comes the increased risk of illness, especially sicknesses that are either viral or bacterial. With the hormonal surges that accompany pregnancy, the body's defense mechanism is affected resulting in a weakened immune system. It is important for a pregnant woman to strengthen her immune system during pregnancy and postpartum as well because it takes time for the hormones to come back into balance after the baby is born.

A Body of Systems

The body is a remarkable piece of equipment and has an entire system devoted to immunities. The immune system organs include bone marrow, from where all the cells of the immune system are initially derived; the thymus which takes immature thymocytes from the bone marrow and "grows them up" into T cells that are released into the blood system; the spleen, which is a blood filter that captures foreign materials from the blood and provides immunological support; and the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system of the body and they filter out antigens (foreign materials) from the lymph fluid before returning the fluid to circulation. When the immune system functions well, a person is able to fight off illness relatively easily. However, when the immune system functions are less than strong, illness can become an issue.

We learned in school that the body is full of various systems, all designed to keep it functioning well. One such system that is profoundly affected by bouncing hormones is the endocrine system, which is responsible for regulating the amount of hormones that a flooding the body. Several glands are involved in this system and if the hormone balance is out of kilter, then problems occur. Diabetes is one such event caused by an endocrine system that isn't working so well. Hyper- and hypothyroidism, are the result of an ill functioning endocrine system - causing weight issues, hyperactivity or fatigue, depending on which end of the scale the imbalance lies.

Nutritional Deficiencies and Immune System Malfunction

Nutritional deficiencies can cause immune system malfunction and the inability to digest food properly adds to the problem. If there are issues with the digestive system, then nutrition is lost and the immune system is unable to function at optimum levels. Each system, the endocrine system, lymphatic system, and digestive system interface with one another and all have a profound effect upon the immune system. The best and most simple way to give the immune system a boost is through a healthy lifestyle. The things that contribute to weakening the immune system include a lack of exercise. Non-exercisers have higher incidence of colds and a higher risk of infections. Sleep quality is poor and inactivity can lead to obesity. Carrying extra weight increases the risk for diabetes, cancer, and heart disease - all resulting, at least in part, from a weak immune system. A diet that is high in sugar and fat suppresses the immune system's cells that are responsible for attacking bacteria. High stress levels for long periods of time (chronic stress) increases vulnerability to disease. Not having friends and a strong support system has been shown the change the immune system on a cellular level, suppressing it and weakening it.

Boosting the Immune System

Obviously, the immune system boosters are the flip-side of the things that weaken the immune system. So, regular exercise five times a week, getting the heart rate up, increases the level of leukocytes, the infection fighting immune system cells. Sleep is improved through the release of endorphins, which also help you feel good. Improve the diet by enriching it with antioxidants and nutrients that boost the immune system. It is well known that an imbalance of antioxidants contributes to such diseases as cancer and heart disease. Eating more immune-boosting foods like garlic and good old chicken soup does wonders. Get enough sleep. Fatigue makes a person vulnerable to myriad illnesses, and insomnia and lack of sleep can cause a rise in inflammation in the body. Practice relaxation techniques to deal with chronic stress so that levels of cortisol are lowered. Finally, laugh - loud, long, and a lot. Laughing decreases the levels of stress hormones and increases infection fighting white blood cells. Endorphins and growth hormones are increased with laughter, and these hormones positively impact the immune system.

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