8 Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System
Some people seem to catch every bug that comes along, while others breeze through cold and flu season without a sniffle. Is there a secret to their success? Limiting your exposure to sick people isn’t always possible, so it’s up to you to shore up your defenses, no matter what your age.
Here are the best ways to keep yourself naturally healthy:
Keeping your house — or at least, your bedroom — from getting bone-dry during wintertime does two things: it helps keep your first line of defense, your mucus membranes, intact and moist. Plus, it provides a hostile environment for viruses, which like it cold and dry.
2. Get enough vitamin D.
New research shows it to be a sure immune booster, and lots of older people just don’t get enough, especially during the short days of winter. Supplement with 1,000 IU a day of vitamin D3, cholecalciferol. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased risk for pneumonia.
3. Add vitamin C.
Japanese researchers have shown that older people with reduced stomach acid (atrophic gastritis) had fewer colds when they supplemented with 500 mg of vitamin C a day. Vitamin C helps white blood cells produce infection-fighting chemicals called cytokines. If you do feel a cold coming on, it’s best to boost your intake even higher, to several grams a day, in divided doses, until your symptoms subside.
4. Limit sweets.
Eating more than 200 calories worth of refined sugar a day can depress your immune system. And 200 calories isn’t much — 3 cookies will do it. Satisfy your sweet tooth with citrus, mangoes, berries and other nutrient-dense fruits.
4. Eat garlic and onions.
Both increase germ-fighting power in your respiratory tract. Garlic is known as “Russian penicillin,” while onions are China’s top choice for healthy lungs.
5. Get enough sleep.
Being deprived of four hours of sleep in a single night led to a 30% reduction in activity of natural killer cells, one of your body’s first lines of defense. If you’re having trouble getting a full night’s sleep — at least seven hours — talk with your doctor about other things you can do, before you try drugs.
Regular, moderate exercise works best. It makes immune cells circulate through the body more quickly, so they are better able to kill bacteria and viruses. Research shows that women who walk 45 minutes a day are half as likely to catch a flu or cold bug as sedentary women, and that active women in their 70s had immune systems that were as healthy as women in their 30s and 40s. No matter what your age, anything is better than nothing.
7. Try an herbal remedy. Echinacea can reduce the duration and severity of colds, if you start taking it at the very first sign of symptoms. Research also shows that 200 mg of a standardized American ginseng extract reduces symptoms and severity. If your immune system is weak because of other health problems, medicinal fungi such as maitake, reishi and cordyceps can help.
The Anti-Aging Bottom Line: Your body’s immune system can be your greatest ally in resisting and fighting off infections. However, your immune system becomes weaker as you age, and you shouldn’t always count on pharmaceutical drugs to save the day. Learn to use natural means to build your immunity for a long, healthy life.