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Immune-System Boosting Tips: Natural Ways to Strengthen Immunity
by Elizabeth A. Pector, M.D.


Bam! Pow! Zap! They’re around every corner. But the evil Dr. Flu and Mr. Cold are about to find out that it’ll take more than a few measly germs to get you down this fall. Here are five super ways to boost your immune system powers.

Natural Immunity Booster #1:


This may be simpler than you think. Pretty much all you have to do is eat right.

“It’s along the lines of, ‘your chain is as strong as its weakest link,’” says Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., nutrition counselor with the Hampton Roads Center for Clinical Research in Norfolk, Va. “If your diet is poor in just one area, you can suffer ill effects, including especially depressed immune function. Always, always focus on balance, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables and whole foods versus processed foods.” Weisenberger also cautions that eating too much fat can hurt immunity.

But what about all those supplements purported to boost the immune system? “This is one [topic] with mixed study results,” says Weisenberger. Most studies don't show convincing benefits for many of these supplements. Even the old standbys vitamin C and echinacea may not help. And, despite popular belief, evidence is weak that vitamin C does anything to shorten a cold’s duration.

There is one caveat on this subject of supplements: A multivitamin may be helpful. Though a panel convened by the National Institutes of Health decided in 2006 that evidence wasn’t strong enough to recommend for or against healthy people taking multivitamins, may nutritionists do recommend them.

Finally, both overweight and underweight people are at greater risk of infections, and undernourished seniors are at particular risk. Fall is a wonderful time to treat yourself to delicious fresh fruits and vegetables. Your immune system will thank you for it!

Natural Immunity Booster #2:

Stay away from smoke--on either end of the cigarette. In 2001, the well-respected Women’s Health Study found that though female smokers don’t get colds more often, their colds last longer (more than seven days, versus one to three for nonsmokers). Smokers also get the flu more often than nonsmokers and die of flu and pneumonia at a greater rate.

What's more, secondhand smoke increases the risk of colds and flu in adults and children. Each year, up to 300,000 lower-respiratory-tract infections (such as pneumonia and bronchitis) in children younger than 18 months can be blamed on smoke exposure.

Natural Immunity Booster #3:


“There is a lot of medical literature to support the evidence that moderate exercise does boost the immune system,” says fitness expert Rita Beckford, M.D., host of the fitness and weight-loss DVD Home With Dr. B. A brisk walk or slow run for 30 to 60 minutes several times a week will likely do the trick.

You may have heard that intense exercise weakens your immune system. Very intense training or competition may slightly lower resistance to colds in athletes who compete in marathons and other endurance events. But most of us don’t have to worry about that, and for those who do, the benefits of exercise far outweigh the risk of getting a cold.

Natural Immunity Booster #4:

When you’re stressed, your body releases more cortisol and norepinephrine into the blood. These hormones decrease the immune system’s ability to fight off infections, explains Bruce Rabin, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Healthy Lifestyle program.

Dr. Rabin emphasizes that behavior and personality factors greatly influence how a person responds physically to stress. Pessimism, loneliness, low sense of humor, inadequate sleep and low physical fitness are linked to higher stress-induced hormone levels, he says.

To date, research has not proven that less stress actually leads to fewer sick days. In fact, we’re still not sure what other long-term effects it may have on the body. Research indicates, however, that it may well cause all sorts of things, including high blood pressure and depression. Many of us have probably experienced its ability to cause fatigue and overeating or undereating. Relieving chronic stress will at least improve your quality of life. And it just may help you fight off infections too.

Natural Immunity Booster #5:


Vaccines are the best way to prevent infections. Find the latest recommendations at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's vaccines website. Some vaccines to be aware of during the fall include ones for the flu, pneumococcal disease (which can lead to a serious type of pneumonia) and meningitis (particularly for college-age folks).



With some luck and common sense, Dr. Flu and Mr. Cold will have no chance with you this fall—thanks to your boosted super (but very human) immunity powers.


ELIZABETH A. PECTOR, M.D., president of Spectrum Family Medicine in Naperville, Ill., is a board-certified family physician with over 15 years of experience practicing medicine.

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Last updated and/or approved: October 2010.
Original article appeared in fall 2006 former print magazine. Bios current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
Comments (1)add comment
well done
written by wisdom , November 18, 2008

Although some patients do seem to have terrible reactions to certain types of vaccinations.
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