Boost Your Immune System

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Boost Your Immune System

David L. Woodland, an immunologist at the Trudeau Institute, a nonprofit research center in Saranac Lake, N.Y. says the biggest drain on our immune systems in the modern age is stress. Where our ancestors faced the fight-or-flight response for short bursts, we are subjected to those same brain chemicals for extended periods of time. These chemicals, most notably cortisol, suppress our immune systems.

Stress-relieving activities are more important than ever for good health. These include such things as meditation, exercise, spending time with friends, taking time off from work. Taking the pressure off the immune system helps it build up, Woodland says. Adequate sleep recharges your immune system, and most people don’t get enough nowadays.

In addition, after age 70, the immune system begins to decline, according to McElhaney. While people tend to get fewer colds as they get older, since their immune systems have developed defenses against many strains of cold virus, “the immune system decline outweighs the benefits you’ve been accruing,” says Woodland.

Again, kids are at risk for poor nutrition as well, which adds to sick days. Dr. Michael Frogel, chief of the division of general pediatrics at Schneider's Children's Hospital of Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., says good nutrition is a must for kids year round.

Good nutrition is a must for kids year-round, says Frogel, and that kids, like adults, need plenty of sleep and regular exercise. Watching more than two hours of TV a day has been shown to promote obesity in kids: "Even if you're watching TV, get up and move around."

Good nutrition does not mean more food—quite the contrary. Losing weight can help build immunity, according to a study by Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. When a group of adults with high cholesterol lost weight on a low-fat diet, most also showed evidence of improved immune function.

Carrie Angus M.D. strongly recommends whole, fresh foods. “Fruits, vegetables, and grains have a very strengthening effect on our immune function,” she says. “So strong is this correlation, in fact, that the National Institutes of Health have developed a Designer Foods Program to study the cancer-preventing effects of cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower). Fresh foods not only carry a diverse mixture of vitamins and trace minerals absent from most processed foods, they also have vitality.”