Cold and flu season is in full swing and even reaching epidemic levels in some areas of the country. Follow these 12 immune boosting tips to prevent viruses, bacteria, and other invaders from making you sick.
1. Exercise Regularly
Exercise improves circulation and is thought to benefit the immune system by allowing leukocytes, an immune system cell that fights infection, to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently. Exercise also releases endorphins and improves sleep quality, another benefit to the immune system. Getting your heart rate up for just 20 minutes just three times a week is associated with increased immune function.
2. Sleep 8 hours
When students at the University of Chicago were limited to only four hours of sleep a night for six nights and then given a flu vaccine, their immune systems produced only half the normal number of antibodies. Like stress, insomnia can cause a rise in inflammation in the body – possibly because lack of sleep also leads to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
3. Take Probiotics
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in our intestinal tract, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. The latest research suggests that certain gut bacteria influence aspects of the immune system, including correcting deficiencies and increasing the numbers of certain T cells (cells that fight infection). You will find probiotics listed on labels of dairy products, drinks, and other foods but we question the quality of these foods and their nutritional claims. Instead, obtain probiotics from whole fermented foods such as sauerkraut and miso or reputable supplement manufacturers. We like Metagenics Ultra Flora Plus and Green Vibrance which packs 25 billion probiotic cells per serving in addition to antioxidants from 72 different organic grass juices and freeze dried greens.
4. Maximize Antioxidant Intake
Maximizing antioxidant intake will help fight free radicals that can interfere with the immune system. Top flu-fighting antioxidants include vitamins C, vitamin A, and beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) and they are abundant in the most colorful fruits and vegetables – especially purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow. Vitamin A in particular has been shown to influence certain immune cells such as T cells, B cells and cytokines. Some of our favorites include broccoli, kale, and sweet potato, all which contain vitamin C, vitamin A, and beta carotene. Eat these foods raw or lightly steamed; don’t overcook or boil.
5. Avoid Sugar
Consuming 75 to 100 grams of sugar (equivalent to two 12-ounce sodas) reduces the ability of white blood cells to overpower and destroy bacteria. Sugar can also spike the stress hormone cortisol which can disrupt immune function. Avoid it.
6. Choose Complete Proteins
Diets lacking sufficient protein are associated with impaired cell-mediated immunity, complement activity, phagocyte function, IgA antibody concentrations, and cytokine production. One group of investigators has found that in mice, diets deficient in protein reduce both the numbers and function of T cells and macrophages and also reduce the production of immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies.
Complete protein sources such as quinoa and animal meat contain the full chain of amino acids that are essential to cellular immune function. Meat such as beef and poultry contain the minerals zinc and selenium that are essential for healthy immune function. A 3-oz serving of lean beef provides 30% percent of the recommended daily value of zinc. Animal livers from beef, pork, turkey and chicken contain both protein and high doses of vitamin A.
7. Supplement With Selenium, Zinc, Vitamin D, C, and E.
Selenium – helps white blood cells produce cytokines-proteins that help clear flu viruses out of the body. The daily recommended dose is 200 mcg, which can be obtained by eating a couple of brazil nuts. We also like this Selenium Synergy supplement by Jarrow Formulas that contains sulforaphane from broccoli seed extract.
Zinc – is essential for the development of white blood cells, the intrepid immune system cells that recognize and destroy invading bacteria and viruses. Zinc deficiency is very common among Americans, particularly vegetarians or those who do not frequently eat meat, and it lowers the activity of T cells and other immune cells and interferes with absorption, transport, and metabolism of vitamin A. Aim for 15-25 mg of zinc daily.
Vitamin D – researchers found that vitamin D signals an antimicrobial response to the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Vitamin D is best absorbed when it is manufactured by the body after being exposed to sunlight. Cod liver oil is a good alternative if sunlight is not possible; it is packed with extraordinarily high doses of vitamin D and A with the added benefit of omega 3 fatty acids.
Vitamin C – supports thyroid and other cellular functions that affect the immune system. Requirements for vitamin C increase under stress and during viral illness. The antioxidant activity of vitamin C works to support that of vitamin E.
Vitamin E – scavenges free radicals and has been shown to improve immune response. One study showed that increasing a dose of vitamin E from 30 mg to 200 mg increased antibody responses to hepatitis B and tetanus after vaccination. Another study published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society found that supplements of vitamin E and C reduced oxidative stress in HIV patients and produced a trend toward a reduction in viral load. Vitamin E is not abundant in many foods so supplementation is recommended.
8. Try Immune Enhancing Foods
Incorporate immune boosting foods including mushrooms, garlic, and chicken soup.
Mushrooms have been shown in several studies to enhance the immune system’s natural killer (NK) cell activity which suggest they may promote innate immunity against viruses and tumors. Dr. Andrew Weil recommends shitake and maitake mushrooms for their antiviral and immune-enhancing properties. We also like MycoPhyto Complex made by ecoNugenics.
Garlic’s active ingredient allicin has been shown to fight infection and bacteria. British researchers gave 146 people either a placebo or a garlic extract for 12 weeks; the garlic takers were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold.
Chicken soup is effective due to the amino acid cysteine (released from the chicken during cooking) which chemically resembles the bronchitis drug acetylcysteine. Soup’s salty broth keeps mucus thin in the same manner as cough medicines.
Many researchers report that stressful situations can reduce various aspects of the cellular immune response. Chronic stress exposes your body to hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which suppress the immune system. A research team at Ohio State University suggests that psychological stress disrupts the communication between the nervous, endocrine, and immune system. Stress hormones, mainly glucocorticoids, affect the thymus, where lymphocytes are produced, and inhibit the production of cytokines and interleukins, which stimulate and coordinate white blood cell activity.
Manage stress with massage, yoga, meditation, laughter and social connection. One experiment found that people who meditated over an 8-week period produced more antibodies to a flu vaccine than people who didn’t meditate – and they had increased immune system response four months later. Laughing decreases the levels of stress hormones in the body while increasing a type of white blood cell that fights infection. Even the anticipation of a humorous event can impact hormone levels.
10. Connect With Friends
Isolation can suppress immune function. Published studies have shown that infant monkeys separated from their mothers, especially if they are caged alone rather than in groups, generate fewer lymphocytes in response to antigens and fewer antibodies in response to viruses. A study on college freshmen showed that those who were lonely had a weaker immune response to a flu vaccine than those who felt connected to others. Another recent study displayed the effect that isolation has on the immune system on a genetic level: being lonely affected the way some genes that controlled the immune system were expressed.
Wash hands frequently during flu season. Sanitize door handles, steering wheels, cell phones, cosmetics, and other commonly used items that may have been exposed to germs – such as yoga mats. Pour some hydrogen peroxide into a spray bottle for easy and cost-effective cleaning of small items such as cosmetics and cell phones.
Staying hydrated is essential. Choose beverages free of caffeine and alcohol and drink lots of water. Black and green tea feature the immune-fighting amino acid L-theanine but they contain moderate amounts of caffeine, so make sure to compensate with even more non-caffeinated options such as hot water with lemon and caffeine-free herbal teas.
Image Sources: www.myyogaonline.com; www.powerofmushrooms.com.au
Data Sources: Harvard Medical School; WebMD; WebMD; WebMD; drweil.com; Prevention.com; livestrong.com; Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre by Mora JR, Iwata M, von Andrian UH.Gastrointestinal Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical Schoolstage; Dietary supplementation with white button mushroom enhances natural killer cell activity in C57BL/6 mice by Wu D, Pae M, Ren Z, Guo Z, Smith D, Meydani SN.Nutritional Immunology Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA. Macrophage immunomodulating and antitumor activities of polysaccharides isolated from Agaricus bisporus white button mushrooms by Jeong SC, Koyyalamudi SR, Jeong YT, Song CH, Pang G. School of Natural Sciences, College of Health and Science, University of Western Sydney, Penrith South DC, New South Wales, Australia. Anti-aromatase activity of phytochemicals in white button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) by Chen S, Oh SR, Phung S, Hur G, Ye JJ, Kwok SL, Shrode GE, Belury M, Adams LS, Williams D. Department of Surgical Research, Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, Duarte, California 91010, USA. White button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) exhibits antiproliferative and proapoptotic properties and inhibits prostate tumor growth in athymic mice by Adams LS, Phung S, Wu X, Ki L, Chen S. Department of Surgical Research, Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, Duarte, CA, USA; sciencedaily.com; Effect of dietary protein and amino acids on immune function by Daly JM, Reynolds J, Sigal RK, Shou J, Liberman MD.Department of Surgery, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia. USDA National Agricultural Library;
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