Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Build Up Your Immune System And Protect Yourself Against Swine Flu

With the spread of swine flu so much in the news, it makes sense to build up your immune system to reduce your chance of infection by the H1N1 virus.  There are no certainties in life, you may still get the flu, but a healthy immune system will maximize your chances of a quick recovery from swine flu or seasonal flu.

First, before we get to your immune system, it goes without saying that the normal routes for avoiding any infection are still very important.  Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (the amount of time it takes to sing the first verse of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) especially before eating and after going to the toilet.  Carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you for the times that soap and water are not available. Keep your hands away from your face, as touching your nose, mouth or eyes with contaminated hands can introduce the virus into your body through the mucous membranes in these areas.

Eat A Healthy Diet
Your diet is an important line of defence against infection since good nutrition builds healthy cells, and healthy cells build a healthy body. Eating empty calories (i.e. those that do not meet the nutritional needs of your cells) increases your chances of developing chronic disease or of succumbing to infection.

Make sure that you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as these are rich in antioxidants that protect your cells from free radical damage and in vitamins and minerals.  Include foods that build up your immune system. The latter include:
  • zinc - lamb, oysters, organic beef, Napa cabbage, spinach, cashews, and lima beans;
  • vitamin C - cabbage-family vegetables, spinach, red peppers; oranges; 
  • vitamin E - spinach, hazelnuts, almonds, asparagus, wheatgerm
  • vitamin A - red pepper, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, canteloupe
  • Selenium - Brazil nuts, cashews, tuna, cod,
Other foods to include are those with anti-viral properties like garlic and green tea.  The latter also stimulates the immune system.

Take Vitamin D
It is best to get vitamins and minerals from food wherever possible, but vitamin D, which has been shown to protect against bacteria and viruses through production of substances called anti-microbial peptides, is produced by the skin when it is exposed to sunlight.  In the northern hemisphere the sun is too low in the winter to provide enough sun to form vitamin D, and the use of sun-block in summer prevents most people from building sufficient stores of vitamin D to see them through the winter.  So build your vitamin D stores by taking 1000 mg of Vitamin D3 (the natural form of the vitamin) daily.   Avoid the synthetic forms of vitamin D, which will not be helpful.

Avoid Sugar and Refined Grains
Help build up strength in your immune system by avoiding substances that weaken it.  Sugars suppress the immune system for several hours after ingestion, and refined grains act like sugars because they are metabolized so quickly that they stimulate the glycemic response.  Avoid processed foods, pop, grain alcohol, jams and jellies, syrups, sugar and honey.

Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise helps build up immune system efficacy by mobilizing the T-cells.  Moderate activity, such as brisk walking for 30 minutes, is better than intense activity which actually weakens the immune system.

Drink Water
Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day helps to flush out toxins and reduces the work that the immune system must do.

De-Stress Distress
Prolonged stress has a negative effect on the immune system and makes you more vulnerable to sickness.  Events in and of themselves do not cause stress; it is the reaction you have to events that determines whether it is stressful or not, and the reaction depends on the meaning you give to the event.    Stress-reducing practices such as meditation, tai chi, and yoga can assist you to respond, rather than react, to events in a way that is less stressful.  Reducing your stress-level will help build your immune system.

Get More Sleep
Sleep strengthens the immune system.  A recent study in The Archives of Internal Medicine found that those who slept fewer than seven hours a night were three times more likely to get sick than those who averaged at least eight hours.  Even a night without sleep can be harmful.  In a 2007 study, rats that went without sleep for 24-hours showed  a 20 per cent decrease in white blood cells when compared to a control-group that had not been sleep deprived.

Don't Worry
The brain and the immune system are connected through the neuropeptides - chemicals related to emotions.  These chemicals have specific receptor sites on cell membranes throughout the body.  All thoughts and all body functions are linked by these chemical peptides, which are the link between mind and body, and between body and mind.  

Worry and fear can suppress the immune system.  So worrying about catching flu can actually help to make it happen.  Instead look on the bright side.  Believe that your efforts to build up your immune system will pay-off so that you will either avoid the flu completely, or have only a mild case.

Photo by old_wine

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