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Boost Your Immunity

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Our immune system defends us against the myriad of bacteria, viruses, and environmental factors that might harm us. The chief soldiers are the white blood cells. These strong fighters are on alert 24/7 and even have cancer fighting ability. Considering all they do for us, it might interest you to know that there are numerous things that you can do to help fortify your white blood cells.

Factors acting on the immune system:

  • Sleep. Sleep facilitates the adaptive immune response by increasing both the efficacy and number of T cells. T cells are white cells that fight off viruses. Recent report in Arch. Of Intern. Med. Jan 12, 2009, looked at 150 healthy men and women, and graded their sleep duration and efficiency (percentage of time spent in bed actually asleep) over a 2- week period. Subjects were then exposed to rhinovirus and monitored for the appearance of cold symptoms. Individuals who slept less than 7 hours were three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept 8 hours or longer. Individuals with lower sleep efficiency were five times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept soundly. When we get sick, in addition to the classic symptoms of headache, aching muscles and fever, we get very sleepy. We feel “wiped out”. This effect is due to a chemical message (interleukin-1) produced by the white cells which acts directly on the brain’s sleep center to induce sleep. So if you feel you might be coming down with a cold or the flu, allow yourself extra sleep time. It is during sleep that the white blood cells increase their number and become super efficient.
  • Exercise. The benefits of daily exercise are innumerous – and extend to the white blood cells. Daily aerobic exercise makes the white blood cell perform better! The aging immune system is characterized by a progressive decline in T-cell mediated responses; for this reason, we recommend that those over 60 years have a flu shot. With age, we made fewer white blood cells and they don’t perform as well. The failing immunity results in an increase in infectious diseases and cancer; but regular physical exercise seems to offset the immune system decline due to aging. Physically active older people are more resistant to age-related declines in number of white cells and are able to mount stronger immune responses. Ref.: Jour. Of Appl. Phys. 3/31/2004 The Influence of Age and Physical Activity on the primary in vivo antibody and T cell mediated responses in men.
  • Abdominal fat. Fat within the visceral cavity is a pro-inflammatory fat. It contains types of white cells called macrophages, which under normal circumstances are PacMan-like cells that clean up debris. But belly macrophages pump out chemical signals to attract white blood cells and activate them to send out inflammatory proteins. The fat cells themselves are bigger and send out inflammatory signals. This dangerous situation raises the risk for blood clots and cancers within the body. Because abdominal fat is so unnatural, it tricks the immune system into attacking the organs. Whereas the immune system normally protects us from cancer, abdominal fat triggers immune signals that encourage cancer! If your waist has expanded, don’t ignore it – address it with daily exercise and proper diet.
  • High sugar diet. A diet high in sugar causes inflammation. High sugar diet raises insulin levels, predisposing to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance and diabetes compromise the immune system.

Other measures:

  • Hand washing is a top germ fighter. How long do you have to wash? As long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday!
  • Vitamin D improves immunity. Vitamin D is made in the skin during exposure to sunlight. Data from NHANES III found individuals with the lowest levels of vitamin D (<10) were 35% more likely to develop a respiratory infection than those with the highest levels (>30). Individuals with history of chronic respiratory illnesses, such as COPD and asthma, and low vitamin D levels were five times more likely to develop an infection than those with high vitamin D levels. Your skin produces vitamin D from sunlight, but since excessive exposure can cause skin cancer, most people wisely avoid sun exposure. The natural sources for vitamin D are: fish such as herring and salmon, mushrooms and eggs. Vitamin D is found in fortified milk. Because it is difficult to obtain enough vitamin D from the diet, I suggest that most people take a supplement. I routinely now measure vitamin D levels on all patients and recommend vitamin D3 1000 international units daily if the level is low.
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