Sleeping cat

Defences down

Different factors can suppress our immune systems

Not everyone has a perfectly functioning immune system. Many people, at some point in life, find that their immune system is weakened by disease or ageing. Some people are born with inherited disorders that affect their ability to fight disease.

Some acquire infections, like HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), that suppress their immune systems. In HIV, immune cells called helper T cells are destroyed, impairing the body’s ability to fight ordinary infections like colds and flu. Certain cancers can suppress the immune system, and so can cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy.

Recent reports from the USA suggest that fasting could help the immune system regenerate in people being given chemotherapy for cancer. There are also experimental drugs as well as supplements, smoothies, herbs and teas that manufacturers claim will provide an immune boost. However, scientists remain sceptical about such remedies when the evidence is weak and there is money to be made by selling them. We do know, though, that staying healthy – getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, exercising and avoiding stress – helps to support your immune system.

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hehaden/Flickr CC BY NC


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Immune System’ in January 2015.

Health, infection and disease, Medicine, Immunology
Immune System
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development