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Your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms (microscopic bugs). For a multitude of reasons, the immune system can fail in fighting off bacteria, viruses, and cancer. The best way to keep your immune system strong is creating a healthful lifestyle and using supportive behaviors, including:

  • Eliminate processed and refined foods, including sugar and dairy
  • Eat a diet high in healthful protein, vegetables, fats, and low-sugar fruits
  • Eliminate, or at least minimize, smoking
  • Exercise with short bursts of intensity followed by periods of rest
  • Maintain a healthy body composition, one that is low fat and lean
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night
  • Avoid infection by washing your hands during the day, and getting fresh air so you are not boxed into a room with potentially sick colleagues.

In addition to washing your hands and sneezing into your sleeve to avoid the spread of unwanted microorganisms, consider eating certain foods, and taking supplements that have been shown to improve the immune response. Foods to include in your daily diet should include:

  • Mushrooms
  • Garlic
  • Chicken soup
  • Green and black tea
  • Grass-fed meats
  • Ginger
  • Acai berries
  • Cruciferous vegetables—cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli

Supplements to Boost Immunity

  • Mushroom extracts, including maitake, turkey tail, ganaderma, cordycepts
    • Mushrooms contain beta-glucans (mushroom sugar), which have been shown to increase the function of natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells hunt and destroy virus-infected cells and cancer cells.
  • Echinacea
    • Echinacea provides compounds called alkylamides, which have been found to modulate the immune system and regulate its function.
  • Astragalus
    • Astragalus was shown to modulate the immune system through the control of inflammatory compounds called cytokines. These cytokines (chemical messengers) are important immune mediators and regulators of the immune response.
  • Vitamin D
    • Besides its importance for your bones, Vitamin D is also a powerful manipulator of the immune system. Vitamin D (calcitriol) was shown to improve functions of white blood cells called macrophages. Macrophages hunt, eat, and destroy unwanted microorganisms, and they are responsible for recruiting other white blood cells to join in the fight.
  • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin C was also shown to improve the immune response by turning on a white blood cell called a T-lymphocyte. T-lymphocytes can activate other immune cells, and they kill cells infected by viruses as well as tumor cells.

While the sunlight is weaker during colder months, and we are stuck inside with dirty door knobs and coughing folks, there are ways you can control and rebuild your immune system to prevent getting sick. Eating a diet rich in immune-supportive foods, and taking specific supplements, you can hopefully skate through this season without the need for toxic pharmaceuticals.

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Aranow C, Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of Investigative Medicine. 2011 August ; 59(6): 881;886