Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Staying healthy is no easy feat these days. Our body is under constant attack not only from bacteria and viruses but also from toxins in the air we breathe and the food we eat, damaging sun rays, and a host of other potentially damaging things in the environment. How do we protect ourselves? Our immune system is one of the keys. The immune system is made up of both a physical barrier (skin and cells that line important organs) and a complex group of cells that help fight infection and rid our body of damaged or damaging intruders.
As we age, our immune system becomes less effective at both recognizing and fighting foreign cells. This can lead to both a higher incidence and severity of infections as well as increased rates of immune-related disorders such as cancer, inflammatory diseases, and autoimmune diseases in which the body essentially attacks itself. What can you do to boost your immune system? Here are 3 important things.
Eat better. This is no surprise to most, but eating a well balanced diet which includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, healthy fats, and lean protein is critical. Adequate intake of several vitamins and trace minerals is essential for proper immune function. Anti-oxidants like Vitamin C, E, and selenium help counteract damage to cells. Zinc, copper, B vitamins (especially B6, folate and B12), and Vitamins A and D help support immune cell responses and increase the production of critical cells involved in the immune system.
In addition to a balanced diet, a basic multivitamin will help you meet vitamin and mineral requirements and if you are under considerable stress, you may consider a stress or immune formula which has higher levels of several of the vitamins mentioned above. In addition, maintaining a healthy weight is essential as obesity is often associated with chronic low levels of inflammation which can overtax your immune system over time, rendering it less effective when you really need it to fight off that cold or something even more serious.
Move more. Long term, moderate exercise can help boost or maintain immune function by improving both immune cell production and response. Studies in older adults have shown decreased infection risks and increased rates of vaccine effectiveness in those who exercised regularly. Interestingly, frequent strenuous exercise (which is considered exercise at greater than 85% of your predicted maximum heart rate) can actually lead to immune system dysfunction so make sure to play close attention to diet and take a good multivitamin if you engage in regular strenuous exercise.
Stress less. It is not always easy but reducing stress is important for a healthy immune system. Stress increases neuro-endocrine hormones including glucocorticoids and catecholamines. Chronically elevated levels of these hormones can have a detrimental effect on immune function and can lead to delayed wound healing, impaired responses to vaccination, and even development and progression of certain types of cancer. Do your best to control stress in any way that you can whether through lifestyle changes, exercise, yoga, meditation or simply not getting aggravated in traffic or at home every day.
Don't take your immune system for granted and your chances of a living a long and healthy life will increase considerably.
In good health,
About Dr. Melina Jampolis
Dr. Melina Jampolis is a board certified internist and physician nutrition specialist (one of only approximately 200 in the country). She is a graduate of Tufts University as well as Tufts School of Medicine and specializes exclusively in nutrition for weight loss and disease prevention and treatment.
posted at 08:31:04 AM