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COLD & FLU
10 Ways to Support Your Immune System
Our immune systems work hard every day to keep us healthy. And yet, we oftentimes only think about our immune systems when they’re busy fighting off a cold or flu virus, leaving us to deal with the symptoms. It doesn’t need to be that way, though. You can support your immune system each and every day, with intentional actions as simple as getting enough sleep.
Here’s 10 ways to support your immune system.
- Get enough sleep.
Research shows that stress decreases your ability to stay healthy, especially during cold and flu season.2 For instance, worrying has been shown to reduce normal, healthy activities of the immune system.3 When flu season hits, try taking a mini meditation break during the day—just close your eyes and focus on breathing in and out for a few minutes (and if you have even more time, go for it!).
- Get a flu shot.
Vaccines are well-recognized within the medical community as the most effective measure for preventing infections.1 Getting a flu shot each year can prepare your immune system for exposure to the flu virus and reduce the chances that you become sick if you encounter it.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
Most people know that a nutritious and well-balanced diet gives your body the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. What we consume has indeed been implicated in our immune response to infection.5 The best diet-related thing you can do to support your immunity is to ensure that you do not have any nutritional deficiencies.4 Get the essential nutrients you need by incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Eat good fats.
Good fats are often found in fish, olive oil, and avocado.6 Researchers suggest that low-fat diets may help to maintain immune responses and thereby prevent disease.7 While healthy fats are important for nutrition, unhealthy fats are harmful, short term and longterm.7
- Limit sugar.
The amount of sugar in your blood has been shown to affect immune responses.8 As with dietary fat, sugar intake should be approached with moderation and with an eye to supporting overall health.
- Take vitamins.
There has been a lot of research on the effects of vitamins on different aspects of our health. Based on the known benefits of several vitamins, dietary recommendations include daily intake of fruits and vegetables. However, for people who are deficient in certain vitamins because they do not get enough through their diets, vitamin supplements may help to support immune responses by improving the functioning of specific cells of the immune system.9
Regularly engaging in moderate activity has been shown to support the immune system.13 An active lifestyle in adults aged 18 to 85 has been shown to be associated with fewer upper respiratory tract infections.10,11
- Stop smoking.
Cigarette smoke is associated with a compromised immune system.13 Given that it is also well-established that smoking cigarettes is deleterious to your health in a number of ways, quitting smoking or refraining from smoking in the first place is a straightforward way to prevent health problems.
- Limit alcohol intake.
Like cigarette smoke, alcohol is known to be bad for our health. The immune system is no exception. Alcohol has indeed been shown to affect the activity of several different cell types that are critical to the proper functioning of the immune system.14,15 Limiting alcohol consumption can therefore improve your chances of keeping your immune system healthy.
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Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004;130:601–30.
Segerstrom SC, Glover DA, Craske MG, Fahey JL. Worry affects the immune response to phobic fear. Brain Behav Immun. 1999;13:80–92.
Davison G, Kehaya C, Wyn Jones A. Nutritional and Physical Activity Interventions to Improve Immunity. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016;10:152–69.
Thaiss CA, Zmora N, Levy M, Elinav E. The microbiome and innate immunity. Nature. 2016;535:65–74.
DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH. Good Fats versus Bad Fats: A Comparison of Fatty Acids in the Promotion of Insulin Resistance, Inflammation, and Obesity. Mo Med. 2017;114:303–7.
Galli C, Calder PC. Effects of fat and fatty acid intake on inflammatory and immune responses: a critical review. Ann Nutr Metab. 2009;55(1-3):123-139. doi:10.1159/000228999
Jafar N, Edriss H, Nugent K. The Effect of Short-Term Hyperglycemia on the Innate Immune System. Am J Med Sci. 2016;351:201–11.
Mora JR, Iwata M, von Andrian UH. Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre stage. Nat Rev Immunol. 2008;8:685–98.
Spence L, Brown WJ, Pyne DB, Nissen MD, Sloots TP, McCormack JG, et al. Incidence, etiology, and symptomatology of upper respiratory illness in elite athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39:577–86.
Barrett B, Hayney MS, Muller D, Rakel D, Ward A, Obasi CN, et al. Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection: a randomized controlled trial. Ann Fam Med. 2012;10:337–46.
Nieman DC, Henson DA, Gusewitch G, Warren BJ, Dotson RC, Butterworth DE, et al. Physical activity and immune function in elderly women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1993;25:823–31.
Kalra R, Singh SP, Savage SM, Finch GL, Sopori ML. Effects of cigarette smoke on immune response: chronic exposure to cigarette smoke impairs antigen-mediated signaling in T cells and depletes IP3-sensitive Ca(2+) stores. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2000;293:166–71.
Molina PE, Happel KI, Zhang P, Kolls JK, Nelson S. Focus on: Alcohol and the immune system. Alcohol Res Heal J Natl Inst Alcohol Abus Alcohol. 2010;33:97–108.
Szabo G, Saha B. Alcohol’s Effect on Host Defense. Alcohol Res. 2015;37:159–70.