Whether you’re battling a nasty cold or fighting a chronic illness, it’s critical to maintain a strong immune system. Unfortunately, stress, poor nutrition, and simply getting older can undermine your immunity and leave you vulnerable to disease. But, eating well, adopting a few healthy habits, and relying on potent immune-boosting supplements can fortify your defenses.
The typical American diet is often deficient in a variety of nutrients needed to support a strong immune system. Even marginal deficiencies of key nutrients can affect your body's ability to resist disease and infection. A deficit might also slow your recovery from surgery. Make sure you are getting a variety of nutrients by eating at least five servings of colorful fruits and vegetables each day. These foods are rich in immune-boosting antioxidants that help protect cells from damage. Lean protein especially beef, shellfish, beans, and soy are good sources of zinc, a mineral that helps regulate immune function. Eat a serving at every meal. And making yogurt and other fermented foods part of your daily diet can provide beneficial probiotics that enhance immunity, and help protect against harmful bacteria and viruses. In fact, research from the University of California, Davis, has shown that eating yogurt helps the body build a protein called gamma interferon, which aids the body in developing white blood cells.
Exercise enhances your body’s immune response by speeding up the antibodies and white blood cells in your bloodstream so that they can detect illnesses sooner. But you needn’t spend hours at the gym. Studies show that taking a brisk walking for as little as 20 minutes per day, five days a week, can enhance immunity. Exercise also reduces stress, which is important when it comes to protecting your immune system. Preliminary research in the journal Biological Psychiatry suggests that chronic stress may alter how white blood cells function, leaving them less responsive to inflammation and illness.
Andrographis: long used in Ayurvedic medicine to stimulate immune function, has been found in recent studies to reduce the symptoms of the common cold. During a recent trial of 223 people suffering from upper respiratory symptoms, those taking the andrographis experienced rapid improvement compared to those taking a placebo. Typical dosage: 400 mg three times a day standardized to 10 percent andrographolides.
Astragalus: is a member of the pea family that has gained a reputation as an antiviral and potent immune booster. Rich in polysaccharides, flavonoids, multiple trace minerals, and amino acids, astragalus increases the activity of natural killer cells and macrophages (large white blood cells that gobble up viruses). In one study, researchers found that astragalus helped promote and maintain respiratory health an important consideration when fending off colds and the flu. Typical dosage: 250 to 500 mg, three to four times a day, standardized to contain 70 percent polysaccharides.
Echinacea: is well-known for its immune-stimulating properties. There are actually three medicinal varieties of Echinacea—Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida and each impacts the immune system in a slightly different way. Both E. purpurea and E. angustifolia turn on the body’s innate immune response while E. pallida stimulates the production of antibodies called immunoglobulin M that modulate the immune system’s response to bacteria, viruses, fungus, and allergens. A review at the University of Connecticut found that echinacea decreased the odds of developing the common cold by 58 percent. Typical dosage: 300 mg of standardized, powdered extract containing 4 percent echinacosides three times a day for a total of 7 to 10 days.
Shiitake, Maitake and Reishi mushrooms: are rich sources of potent immuno-modulators. Studies suggest that active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) a blend of several hybridized species of mushroom mycelia, may heighten the immune system’s response to bacteria and viruses. It’s so effective that it’s often used in Japan to reduce the risk of hospital infections. Typical dosage: 500 mg three time per day on an empty stomach.