The term “immunocompromised” has been flooding our televisions and inboxes as warnings about the Coronavirus continue to ring loud. Doctors and other health professionals across the globe warn that, along with elderly and severely obese people, immunocompromised individuals are among the highest risk for COVID-19. But there seems to be some general uncertainty about who constitutes immunocompromised.
Immunocompromised, sometimes also referred to as immunosuppressed, is a wide-ranging category that includes anyone who has an immune system that has been damaged or does not function properly. You can think of the immune defenses as an army of cells – each with unique weapons – that are strategically placed throughout the body to identify, warn of, and destroy invaders and other harmful substances. If these cells do not function properly, damaging organisms such as parasites, harmful bacteria, cancer and, yes, viruses may start to run rampant in the body.
I recently wrote an article outlining the different components of the immune system and their various functions. I recommend skimming through that to get an overview of immunity before proceeding.
Common Causes of Immune Defense Malfunction
Various disorders can affect every part of the immune defense process. Autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and lupus occur when the body attacks healthy tissue. Immunodeficiency diseases like HIV/AIDS and Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) also leave a person immunocompromised.
Chronic conditions such as lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes have adverse effects on immune function. Malnutrition and smoking can further suppress immunity, and even treatments like chemotherapy and steroids can impair the immune response by destroying immune cells or hindering their ability to recognize pathogens (disease-causing agents).
Compromised Immunity and Risk of Infection
Individuals with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to infections like COVID-19 because they cannot effectively recognize and respond to threat. If their second line of defense is damaged, for example, their immune system may not be able to identify pathogens and alert us with a fever.
Immunocompromised people may also lack the ability to effectively respond to vaccinations. If this is the case, they may assume that they are protected from certain illnesses when they are not. Both scenarios may lead to infections going undetected without treatment and becoming more severe.
Methods to Enhance the Immune System
Immunocompromised individuals must put extra effort into keeping their immune system as healthy as possible. If you have a suppressed immune system, be sure to continue exercising – even if that means just taking walks around your neighborhood each day. Limit stress by practicing yoga or meditation and prioritize sleep. People who are not immunocompromised would also benefit from these practices.
Certain foods, and the components within them, also stimulate immune function and I discuss them in detail in my book, Eat to Beat Disease. Some impressive immune-enhancing foods include white button mushrooms, broccoli sprouts, extra virgin olive oil, chestnuts, and blackberries. Many of the foods that I recommend can be found in grocery stores across the nation and can have significant effects on immunity; so, eat up and stay healthy.