Strategies to Strengthen the Immune System
We are in a constant state of war with billions of other creatures – bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites – on us, around us and in us. Although some are harmless, others are eating away at us, causing chronic infections and manifesting as fatigue, premature aging, baldness, skin problems, digestive disorders, periodontal disease, and more. Science is finding that most, if not all, chronic diseases have an infectious component. Infection is a key component in everything from gastritis (H. Pylori), to gonorrhea, from acne to Alzheimer's Disease, from carbuncles to cardiac arrest. Infectious disease may well be the trigger that accelerates the onset and / or progress of the chronic degenerative diseases of aging.
Maintaining a strong immune system is among the most beneficial ways in which to reduce your odds of succumbing to infectious disease. In this article, we provide some tips to strengthen your immune system.
Breakfast As the Best Defense. People who eat breakfast are less likely to catch a cold or the flu, found researchers from Cardiff University (United Kingdom). The team speculates that a hearty breakfast fuels the immune system with cellular energy. Additionally, people who routinely miss breakfast are more likely to have more stressful, hectic lives, which may mitigate immune defenses and increase the chances of getting an infection. Start your day with fresh fruit (oranges or berries) or unsweetened juice, dairy foods (low-fat milk or yogurt), and whole grains (whole-grain hot or cold cereals, whole-wheat toast).
Exercise Away Sickness . People who maintain a physically active lifestyle enjoy the benefits of a stronger immune system into older age. University of Colorado-Boulder (USA) researchers found that there is an age-related decline in the antibody responses to signals that elicit the immune response. Physical activity helps to maintain a more optimal T cell-mediated response, and is especially important in those in their 50s, 60s, and beyond, because older people tend to be immunocompromised.
A Touchy Situation . In 2005, the American Society for Microbiology (USA) reported that while 91% of American adults say they always wash their hands after using public restrooms, in actuality only 83% actually did so. Women were more likely to wash their hands (90%) as compared to men (75%). The same survey also disclosed these other lackluster hand washing habits:
o Only 21% of men and women say they always wash their hands after handling money
o Only 24% of men and 39% of women say they always wash their hands after coughing or sneezing
The technique for proper hand washing per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involves these steps:
1. Wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Place the bar soap on a rack that allows it to drain.
2. Scrub all surfaces – including wrists, palms, backs of hands, fingers, under the fingernails, and between fingers. Rub your hands vigorously together for 10-15 seconds.
3. Rinse well with warm water.
4. Dry hands with a clean or disposable towel. Pat the skin rather than rubbing, to avoid chapping or cracking.
According to the US National Center, handwashing costs less than a penny and is a way of prevention that can save you a $ 50 visit to the doctor.
Protective Pets . Children in families with cats or dogs have fewer pet allergies than new pet owners or those who had only been exposed earlier in life. A 2005 study by researchers at the Central Hospital of Norrbotten (Sweden), which tracked 2,454 children for four years, found that, in all cases where allergies were not a result of genetics, exposure to animal allergens protected boys and girls from developing allergies. A previous study, conducted by researchers at the Institute for Social Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (Germany) found that children who were continuously exposed to pets (in this study, cats) were 67% less likely than other kids to develop asthma and 45% less likely to develop hay fever.
Kitchen Germ-ination. The kitchen can be a germination ground that breeds bacteria that may contaminate food and can then get us sick. There are about 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses a year, and most of them occur from bugs in our very own homes. While no kitchen will ever be germ-free, here are some tips that can help reduce the bacteria that might transfer into food:
o Wash your hands before beginning to prepare food. Wash them again after you touch raw meat, fish, or vegetables, and between touching these different foods (to reduce cross-contamination).
o Microwave kitchen sponges on high for one minute until steaming, every day.
o Launder or microwave dishcloths regularly, three or more times a week.
o Clean the kitchen sink drain, disposal and connecting pipe once a week. Sanitize them by pouring down the sink a solution of 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of chlorine bleach in 1 quart (about 1 liter) of water or a solution of commercial kitchen cleaning agent made according to product directions. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal and, along with the moistureness, create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne disease occur each year in the United States, with serious cases resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths annually.
Out of the Cold. In the course of a year, people in the United States suffer 1 billion colds, reports the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A 2005 study by researchers at the Federal Research Center of Nutrition and Food (Germany) found those men and women who took daily vitamins and minerals with probiotics (bacteria that can activate the immune system, particularly T-cells) for at least three months reported reduced cold symptoms than those treated by people who took only vitamins and minerals. The men and women taking a combination of vitamins, minerals, and probiotics are experienced:
o Colds that lasted almost two days less (than an average otherwise of nine days)
o Less time with a fever, reduced to 6 hours (rather than the average otherwise of 24 hours)
o Less severe heads, coughing, and sneezing
Probiotic bacteria, in the form of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, are found in respectable amounts in yogurt. They are also available, in higher doses, in dietary supplement form (free-dried powders, capsules and wafers are preferable over liquid supplements, which are highly perishable). Look for probiotic supplements with the highest "colony forming units" per dose. Because bacteria counts drop as the product ages, mind the expiration date. Take probiotic supplements on an empty stomach.
In conclusion, we remind you to maintain a strong immune system to ward off infectious disease, which as a group is preventable and avoidable contributors that may compromise the quality, or quantity, of your life.
Strategies to Strengthen the Immune System
Ronald Klatz, MD, DO and Robert Goldman, MD, Ph.D., DO, FAASP