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Health Goals: Boost Your Immune System

| 1/27/2011 4:12:00 PM

L.HoltStaying healthy is often easier than getting healthy, but it requires more willpower to focus on preventative health measures because it’s harder to measure your results. Maintaining my health while everyone around me falls ill has never felt quite as rewarding as waking up refreshed and energetic after a week of being ill. Nevertheless, paying attention to the ways you can stop yourself from getting sick is at least as important as treating the illness you have.

Some of the ways that you can boost your health and immune system link back to your diet. A healthy intestinal tract, for example, can ward off indigestion, food poisoning and even chronic degenerative diseases, especially those related to inflammation. This past summer was difficult for me in this regard: It seems like I got sick at least once a month. My favorite way to maintain the level of healthy or “good” bacteria in my body, is to try eating more yogurt. Plain yogurt is best, but any with minimal sugar and live active cultures will do. The live active cultures are the key; these cultures are probiotics that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your digestive system. Some brands that contain these cultures include Stonyfield Farms, Nancy’s, Dannon and, my personal choice for smoothies or eating straight from the cup, Brown Cow. Probiotics are also available in supplement capsule form. According to a study at the University of Vienna in Austria, a daily supplement pill and a daily 7-ounce serving of yogurt are equally effective at boosting immunity and maintaining intestinal health.

Beta-carotene-rich sweet potatoes provide your body with vitamin A for skin health.
Photo by Rebecca Nichols/Courtesy

Other immune-boosting foods include those high in beta-glucans (such as oats, barley and shiitake mushrooms). Beta-glucans activate the immune system, boost natural killer cell activity and have antimicrobial properties that aid in both internal and external infections. Garlic, sweet potatoes and carrots are also helpful in raising immune system functions. Garlic is a natural antibiotic and aids in lowering cholesterol. Brightly colored foods such as sweet potatoes and carrots contain high levels of beta-carotene, which your body transforms into vitamin A to protect the health of your skin, which in turn is your first level of protection from infection. 

If you wish to incorporate any of these into your diet, pay attention to portions. A half cup of sweet potato will give you 40 percent of your daily recommended value of vitamin A. Your optimal dose of garlic can be up to two raw cloves a day, excluding what you chop up and cook, which can be difficult to remember. All of these nutrients are also available in supplement form. Personally, I’m enjoying introducing my body to these ideas through changes in my eating habits first. (I’ve always been wary of taking pills in any form.) Always be sure to check with a health care professional before self-medicating, as some of these compounds in high doses may react adversely with your current medication.

Herbs can also provide an immune boost. Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is a favorite do to its history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine and the large body of scientific research conducted by Western scientists. Laboratory results confirm this herb’s ability to fight bacteria and viruses, reduce inflammation and normalize body function. Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus, also called Siberian ginseng) is another commonly recommended herbal adaptogen that strengthens and balances the body and its resistance to stressors through normalized blood pressure, regulation of blood sugar levels and the strengthening of the adrenal glands.  

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