Vaccines are one of the health measures that have provided the greatest benefit to humanity. They have made it possible to prevent diseases responsible for major epidemics throughout history, such as smallpox.
Just over a year ago, COVID-19 was added to this list. Today we need vaccination again to be able to stop the spread of the coronavirus and regain normalcy.
Available vaccines have been shown to be effective in preventing the disease. However, the magnitude and quality of the immune response to vaccines varies considerably between individuals.
They are several factors that can influence in response to a vaccine.
Some refer to individual characteristics, such as age, sex, their genetic information and the presence of other pathologies (such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, both linked to alterations in the immune system).
But, in addition, our immune response to vaccines can vary depending on daily practices in our day to day.
What habits can improve our immune response after vaccination?
One of the key factors to promote the proper functioning of our immune system is sleeping a sufficient number of hours, as well as controlling our stress level.
Correct sleep hygiene allows to properly maintain biorhythms that control the production of hormones that regulate the function of the immune system, such as melatonin.
This hormone is produced during the night and its administration has been linked to lymphocyte survival and increased antibody production.
In fact, several studies have shown how insufficient sleep hours, both in the days before and after vaccination, can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
Stressful situations promote the release of hormones that suppress immune function, like cortisol, and are associated with a decreased response to vaccination.
Alternatively, activities that provide us satisfaction, such as sports or social relationships, favor the release of hormones that stimulate the immune system, such as endorphins.
Consistent with this idea, individuals who regularly exercise moderately and in a positive mood at the time of vaccination develop an increased response of antibodies and other immune response-enhancing molecules (such as cytokines).
Our immune response to vaccines can vary depending on our daily practices. (Photo: Getty Images)
The importance of eating well
Another crucial aspect to improve the effectiveness of a vaccine is to have an optimal nutritional status. There are several nutrients whose link with the immune system has been scientifically proven.
This is the case of vitamin C and folic acid, both with an important role in the production of effective molecules against infection.
Also the creation of collagen, which contributes to the maintenance of our natural barriers against pathogens.
However, studies suggest that isolated nutrient deficiencies appear to have little impact on response to vaccines, whereas a balanced diet, with a balanced supply of energy, seems to be key to strengthening the immune system.
In fact, people with high body mass indexes, and even obese, have lower production of antibodies, T lymphocytes and cytokines after vaccination.
It is also worth considering the relationship between the gut microbiota and responses to vaccines.
The microbiota associated with the intestinal tract plays key roles in protecting against the invasion of pathogenic microbes and regulating the immune system.
This microbiota is home to millions of microorganisms, mainly bacteria from the Firmicutes and Bacteriodetes groups.
The composition of said microbiota is relatively stable, and under normal conditions it presents a greater abundance of Firmicutes, which is associated with a greater antibody response.
A balanced diet, with a balanced intake of energy, seems to be key to strengthening the immune system. (Photo: Getty Images)
Antibiotics, tobacco and alcohol
However, some circumstances, such as the existence of some pathology, changes in diet or the use of antibiotics, can produce alterations in the microbiota that affect our response to vaccination.
In these situations, the consumption of probiotics that restore balance in our intestinal microbiota has shown potentially beneficial effects on the response to vaccination, although it seems to vary according to the bacteria used, the dose or the duration of administration.
Finally, tobacco use directly alters our line of defense in the respiratory mucosa, and has been associated with lower antibody production after receiving vaccines.
Likewise, excessive alcohol consumption has an undesirable immunosuppressive effect when we receive a vaccine; Furthermore, alcohol can alter the composition of our intestinal microbiota and the immune cells present there, favoring the entry of pathogens into our body.
The immune response to vaccination is variable in the population.
Some of the factors that can influence it correspond to daily habits that affect our immune status, and knowing them can help us to modify them in order to boost our immune system so that it responds effectively when we get vaccinated.
* Patricia López Suarez is a professor at the toImmunology Area of the University of Oviedo. This artThe article originally appeared on The Conversation. You can read the original version here.
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