Only a healthy immune system can defend against disease causing microorganisms. In the battle against germs, arm yourself well by boosting your immunity! Healthy living strategies are definitely a good way to give your immune system an upper hand. A healthy lifestyle is the first line of defense to choose and following are some steps that can be adopted to keep good health and build strong immune system.
- Quit smoking
- Adopt a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and wholegrain and low in saturated fats
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid obesity
- Keep blood pressure under check
- Get adequate sleep
- Adopt steps to avoid infection such as washing hands frequently.
- Take regular medical checks and tests to monitor risk.
Immune system and aging
Many researchers suggest that the aging process leads to reduction of immune response capability which in turn causes more infections and inflammatory diseases and even cancer. Micronutrient malnutrition is a form of malnutrition in which a person is deficient in some essential vitamins and trace minerals which can be obtained from or supplemented by diet. Older persons tend to eat less and they often have less variety in their diets. Hence, as one ages, the body becomes less able to mount a vigorous immune response.
Diet – the crusader
For the immune system to fight a winning battle against attack from diseases, regular nourishment is imperative. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with nutrients called antioxidants. These boost the immune system. Strong epidemiological evidence suggests that plant based diets containing Phyto estrogens result in dramatic reduction in the incidence of breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. Plant micronutrients inhibit angiogenesis (sprouting blood capillaries to feed cancerous cells) in metastasized cells. Phytomins from plant food - Flavonoids, glutathione and polyphenols are antioxidants which counter the free radicals and to stimulate repairing of oxidative damage to DNA.
Vitamins play important role in boosting our immunity. Vitamin B6, Folic Acid or Folate, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Vitamin D play a major role.
The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. Fruits and vegetables especially with purple, blue, red, orange and yellow hues add not just color but plenty of vitamins to your diet.
There are 5 Main Carotenoid groups which help prevent damage to cell and DNA :
- Apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, green peppers, mangoes, turnip, and greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes and watermelon are some of the beta carotenes you could consume.
- Vitamin C is contained in broccoli, berries, sprouts, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kiwi, mango, nectarine, orange, papaya, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, tomatoes, and red and green or yellow peppers.
- For Vitamin E choose carrots, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach and sunflower seeds. These foods are also rich in antioxidants – beans, prunes, apples, raisins, red grapes, onions, eggplant. Increasing doses of Vitamin E can lead to increased antibody responses.
- Indoles - nitrogen compounds found in bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, cauli flowers, turnips, greens and watercress, reduce the incidence of many cancers.
- Flax seed contains lignan precursors which mimic the actions of isoflavones and with Alpha linoleic fatty acid slow down breast cancer tumors.
- Regular intake of Allium - Garlic, Onion and leek helps to lower blood cholesterol levels and significantly reduce the effects of free radicals. Dialkyl sulfides - that is responsible for the odor of garlic, slows down the growth of colon cancer in addition to suppressing the cholesterol synthesis after a high fat diet. Garlic is a favorite in many kitchens and is unique in its health benefits. It has anti fungal and anti bacterial properties as well. It relieves mucous congestion and coughs. Herbs like olive leaf, Echinacea and horseradish relieve mucous congestion and have antimicrobial properties.
- Other antioxidants that could help boost your immunity and keep you healthy include zinc, contained in red meat, beans, nuts, whole grain, fortified cereals, and dairy products; selenium found in Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, poultry, fortified breads, and other grain products.
If your diet does not providing adequate micro nutrients, use mineral supplement to boost your immunity. Research suggests that selenium with vitamin E could help cancer prevention. Vitamin A plays an active role in infection and maintaining mucosal surfaces. Deficiency of Vitamin A is associated with lowered immunity and increased risk of infectious diseases. It is found in eggs, dairy products, liver and kidneys. Also found in dark and yellow vegetables and carrots.
Supplements of Vitamin B6 address the deficiency of lymphocytes and restore immune function. Those afflicted with tuberculosis could do well with a dose of Vitamin D, which has the similar ability to fight other diseases as well.
Zinc is a trace element that is essential for immunity. But it has to be taken with caution as too much of zinc can inhabit the function of the immune system. Shellfish, beef and red meats as well as nuts and legumes contain zinc.
Found in foods such as fruits and vegetables especially citrus, Vitamin C is a highly effective antioxidant and can regenerate other antioxidants such as Vitamin E. This vitamin attacks foreign bacteria and viruses entering the body and helps keep the immune system working well all round the year. It is also effective against allergies.
Cod liver oil is a traditional supplement given to children and remains popular even today. It contains both Vitamin A and D and is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Q10 Co-enzyme can be found in most cells of your body, in the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas and it plays a vital role in energy production and assists in improving wellbeing.
The stress relationship
There is a close relationship between mind and body. Many maladies from stomach upset to heart disease are linked to the effects of emotional stress. Adrenaline increases heart rate, elevated blood pressure and boosts energy. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugar in the blood stream, enhances brain's use of glucose and availability of substances that repair tissues. When stressors are always present in the body then there is an over exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones which can disrupt the body's processes. This in turn can pose numerous health problems such as anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment – hence it is important to learn healthy ways to cope with stressors in her life.
Yoga or at least deep breathing can help to bring down the level of stress. Abdominal breathing brings down the respiration rate helping one to breath deeper. Therapeutic Imagery combined with regulated deep breathing has shown to reduce the damaging effects of stress. Increased levels of stress induces severe damage on health and considerably lowers the immunity levels. St.John's Wort has shown to reduce anxiety and emotional stress.
Exercise and Fitness : Brisk rhythmic exercises when done regularly promotes a sense of well-being and accelerates the metabolic rate that in turn lowers the excess fat and weight. Exercise combining aerobic exercises with strength training for about 40 minutes a day results in Endorphin Effect - relaxation, lowering of pains and aches and a sense of mild euphoria - a pleasing sense of contentment and pleasure. Any scheme to boost immunity must include a regimen of regular physical exercises.
Power Foods to supercharge your immunity
Cabbage is a great source of glutamine and is essential to maintain a healthy gut. Sauté with carrots, broccoli and onion and stir-fry.
Chicken soup has effective anti-inflammatory properties to keep away cold and flu symptoms.
Ginger has strong antimicrobial and anti inflammatory properties and can be used to boost immunity. Peeled, chopped ginger can be added to smoothies for an easy immune boosting trick.
Honey is anti bacterial and antioxidant. Drizzle some on a multigrain toast, oatmeal or plain yogurt and stir with lemon to soothe sore throats and improve digestion.
Lemon has vitamin C and can be squeezed on a salad for enhanced flavor.
Mushrooms provide high selenium that combat flue. Studies show that mushrooms increase the production and activity of white blood cells making them more aggressive - ideal to fight infection.
Oats contain beta-glucan which helps fight upper respiratory tract infections. Oats can be stirred into plain yogurt with berries for a power packed snack.
Spinach is packed with vitamins and nutrients. Toss with chopped veggies for a salad or blended into smoothies.
Tomatoes are full of antioxidants and can be chopped and used in salads or added to soups and gravies. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene - a powerful antioxidant. Sun riped tomatoes and tomato sauce have more lycopene than raw tomatoes.
Watermelon is yet another source of healing antioxidants.
Wheat germ has fiber, vitamins and zinc and can be replaced for flour or sprinkled in yogurt.
Almonds contain vitamin E and can boost energy as well.
Brown rice is high in selenium.
Yogurt is a probiotic and are healthy bacteria that keep the gut and intestinal tract free of disease causing germs.
Shellfish such as oysters, crabs and lobsters are plentiful in selenium and proteins that help clear flu viruses. Salmon, mackerel, herring are rich in omega 3 fats and reduce inflammation.
Tea, especially black tea can fight virus and has amino acid responsible for an immune boost.