Winter Health - Boost Your immune System

January 20, 2011

Winter brings its own specific health challenges like colds, sore throats, ear infections, coughs and fevers.  These extra demands on our immune systems mean we need to take extra steps to maintain and strengthen our natural protections against disease.  There are some simple, straightforward steps you can take:
  • Be sure to get enough sleep. Recently, a study at Carnegie Mellon University indicated that sleeping less than seven hours a night makes a person three times more likely to catch a cold.
  • Eat Healthy. Make vitamin C-rich food part of your daily diet.  You have a wide array of choices, from  kiwi fruit, tomatoes, papaya, mango, and berries to broccoli, spinach, red or orange peppers, oranges, and lemons. Vitamin E and selenium-rich foods are another great way to strenthen the immune system. Remember, Vitamin E should always be used along with selenium to increase its antioxidant effect. Sweet potatoes, nut and seed oils and whole grain cereals are great sources of vitamin E, while  chicken, turkey, cheese, eggs, tuna, cod, whole grain cereals, and soybeans are great for supplying selenium in your diet.
  • Avoid refined sugar. Several studies have shown(s) that refined sugars will actually depress your immune system.
  • Practice proper hygiene. There are a lot of germs out there.
  • Stay hydrated. An important function of water is to flush bacteria from your body, so get a headstart on those germs before they make you sick!
  • Exercise. Recent studies show that there are real, physiological changes in the immune system as a response to exercise. During exercise immune cells circulate through the body faster and are more efficient at destroying bacteria and viruses. After a workout, the immune system usually returns to normal within a few hours, but  regular exercise lengthens these positive changes. A word of caution: there is evidence that more than 90 minutes of high-intensity endurance exercise can make athletes susceptible to illness for up to 72 hours after the exercise session. So if you're going to be in a physically demanding situation, be sure you take precautions and pay particular attention to nutrition.
Are you eating healthy, but still want to give your immune system an edge?  Do you find yourself not quite meeting the dietary standards you've set for yourself? The four most popular supplements for boosting the immune system are:
  • Vitamin C. If you're not getting enough Vitamin C from the fruits and vegetables you eat every day, you may want to take a supplement.  However, it's important to remember  that fruit and vegetables contain other important nutrients, fiber and other antioxidants that are important to your health.
  • Zinc supplements. Zinc is vital for a healthy immune system and is often sold as an over-the-counter natural treatment for the common cold. One meta-analysis that compared several studies on zinc found that taking zinc within 24 hours after the start of a cold may help to reduce symptoms.
  • Echinacea. Echinacea increases the  activity of the immune system. Echinacea stimulates the overall activity of the cells that fight infection, and makes our own immune cells more efficient in attacking bacteria and viruses.
  • Probiotics. A powerful and important aspect of the immune system involves the body's probiotic bacteria. The human body houses more than 32 billion beneficial and harmful bacteria and fungi that constitute 70-80% of the body's immune response.
We live in a winter wonderland ... a strong immune system will help you enjoy it!

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