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Cold and Flu Season: Immune System Support


Published: 10/01/2010

by Dr. Lisa Ellis



Supporting the immune system is important to wellness.  The most affective method is a comprehensive approach that involves exercise, stress management, diet, nutritional supplementation, plant-based medicines, and sometimes glandular therapy.

Here are some key points to remember when wanting to give our immune system the support it needs to keep us as healthy as possible:

1.  The mind, emotion, and stress have a huge impact on immune function.

â– Stress depresses the activity of white blood cells, the soldiers of the immune system that directly combat infection.  Stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system that is responsible for the fight or flight response.  When the sympathetic nervous system is active, the immune system is not as stimulated and deep sleep is disrupted.
â– The immune system appears to work at its best when we are happy.  If you want a happy immune system, then you need to laugh often and view life from a optimistic point of view.
2.  A healthy lifestyle is associated with a healthy immune system.

â– No smoking
â– Maintain a healthy body weight
â– Sleep
â– Regular exercise: 30 minutes 4-5 days per week
3.  Nutrient deficiency is the most common cause of low immune function.  Eat a well-balanced, plant-based diet (which does not mean no meat, but implies high fruit and vegetable intake)
â– Proteins should account for about 15-20% of daily calorie intake
â– Intake of simple sugars such as honey or fruit juice reduce the activity of white blood cells to efficiently destroy infectious agents.  Aim to eat/drink less than 50g of simple sugars per day.
â– Alcohol consumption inhibits immune function.
â– Vitamin A deficiency is associated with increased viral infections. Vitamin A maintains the surface of the skin, respiratory tract, and GI tract.  Vitamin A has anti-viral activity, prevents the growth of tumors, and reduces the affect of stress on the thymus gland (a major immune system gland).
â– Carotenes are a large group of over 600 antioxidants that are essential for protecting the thymus and overall immune function.  Studies have shown that carotenes are most effective when obtained from whole foods.
â– Vitamin C has anti-viral and antibacterial properties and it supports the function of white blood cells.
â– Vitamin E deficiency results in significant impairment of the immune system.
â– Vitamin B6 deficiency results in depressed immune system function.
â– Vitamin B12 and Folic acid deficiency result in severe white blood cell count reduction and abnormal responses.
â– Iron deficiency causes immune dysfunction.  However, one of the body’s natural antibacterial defense mechanisms is to lower the amount of iron in the blood available to the bacteria.
â– Zinc promotes the destruction of foreign particles, protects against free-radical damage, synergist with Vitamin A, and is required for proper white blood cell function.
4.  Drink plenty of fluids.                                                        

All of the above are general recommendations to use in order to support immune function.  As we enter the cold and flu season, there will be more and more exposure to viral and bacterial infections.  People will spend more time inside, in closer proximity to each other.  As the weather gets colder, doors and windows will be closed and the air will be recirculated.