Victory Over Viruses

Smart lifestyle choices and easy herbal supplements can reduce your colds and flus this season, and bolster long-term health.


| September/October 2006



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The coming cold and flu season is only one of hundreds of reasons that immune function should always be at the top of your list of health priorities. The immune system doesn’t just keep sniffles away — it also is the body’s best defense against potentially deadly diseases, such as avian flu, and well-known killers, such as cancer. Your daily habits, including the foods you eat and your exercise and sleep routines, have a significant effect on your immune function. And even if your lifestyle choices are exemplary, environmental toxins, emotional stress and the wear and tear of aging all conspire to weaken immunity.

How to Protect Your Immune System

The most complex system of the body, the immune system includes the thymus gland, spleen, bone marrow and a vast network of lymph nodes that are scattered throughout the body. The immune system also maintains a variety of white blood cells: Natural killer cells eradicate cancer cells and large white blood cells called macrophages gobble up diseased or damaged cells. In addition, specialized immune compounds, such as interferon, stimulate white blood cells to destroy cancerous cells.

Your immune system never rests — 24 hours a day, every day of your life, your immune system is searching for cells that show signs of infection or cancerous changes. To support and protect your immune system, try to follow these lifestyle suggestions:

Choose immune-boosting foods. A diet of refined, processed, sugary foods is a recipe for lowered immunity. To build strong immune function, eat a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits, which provide a wide range of essential antioxidants and nutrients. The immune system also depends on high-quality proteins and healthful fats, especially monounsaturated fats, such as those found in extra virgin olive oil, to repair tissues and create healthy immune cells. Studies show that adding a daily serving of yogurt with live beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, strengthens immune function. It’s also important to reduce your intake of all types of sugars (including concentrated fruit juices) because even one serving of sugar significantly lowers immune defenses for several hours.

Exercise — but not to excess. Science has proven that regular exercise — at least 30 minutes most days of the week — increases immune function. Moderate exercise increases the numbers of all types of white blood cells and makes natural killer cells become more active and effective. But interest-ingly, excessive exercise regimes, such as running a marathon, can temporarily hinder immune function.

Reduce stress. Emotional stressors, such as depression and anxiety, stimulate the secretion of adrenal hormones, which suppress the activity of the thymus gland and white blood cells. Luckily, there are several easy ways to reduce stress in your day-to-day life. In addition to its immune-boosting effects, regular exercise is a potent stress reliever. So are meditation, deep relaxation exercises and massage. Researchers have even found that the simple process of journal writing about stressful incidents improves immune function.





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