Feeding Your Immune System...
FEEDING YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
8 FOODS THAT BOOST IMMUNITY
Adequately feeding your immune system boosts its fighting power. Immune boosters work in many ways. They increase the number of white cells in the immune system army, train them to fight better, and help them form an overall better battle plan. Boosters also help to eliminate the deadwood in the army, substances that drag the body down. Here are the top eight nutrients to add to your family's diet to cut down on days missed from work and school because of illness.
Vitamin C increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies and increases levels of interferon, the antibody that coats cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses. Vitamin C reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by raising levels of HDL (good) cholesterol while lowering blood pressure and interfering with the process by which fat is converted to plaque in the arteries. As an added perk, persons whose diets are higher in vitamin C have lower rates of colon, prostate, and breast cancer.
You don't have to take in massive amounts of vitamin C to boost your immune system. Around 200 milligrams a day seems to be a generally agreed-upon amount and one that can be automatically obtained by eating at least six servings of fruits and vegetables a day. If you take vitamin C supplements, it's best to space them throughout the day rather than take one large dose, most of which may end up being excreted in the urine.
Vitamin E stimulates the production of natural killer cells, those that seek out and destroy germs and cancer cells. Vitamin E enhances the production of B-cells, the immune cells that produce antibodies that destroy bacteria. Vitamin E supplementation may also reverse some of the decline in immune response commonly seen in aging. Vitamin E has been implicated in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. In the Harvard School of Public Health study of 87,000 nurses, Vitamin E supplementation was shown to cut the risk of heart attacks by fifty percent.
It's not difficult to get 30 to 60 milligrams every day of Vitamin E from a diet rich in seeds, vegetable oils, and grains, but it's difficult for most people to consume more than 60 milligrams a day consistently through diet alone. Supplements may be necessary to get enough vitamin E to boost your immune system.
You need 100-400 milligrams per day, depending on your general lifestyle. People who don't exercise, who smoke, and who consume high amounts of alcoholic beverages will need the higher dosage. Those with a more moderate lifestyle can get by with lower levels of supplementation.
Beta carotene is the most familiar carotenoid, but it is only one member of a large family. Researchers believe that it is not just beta carotene that produces all these good effects, but all the carotenoids working together. This is why getting carotenoids in food may be more cancer-protective than taking beta carotene supplements.
The body converts beta carotene to vitamin A, which itself has anticancer properties and immune-boosting functions. But too much vitamin A can be toxic to the body, so it's better to get extra beta carotene from foods and let the body naturally regulate how much of this precursor is converted to the immune-fighting vitamin A. It's highly unlikely that a person could take in enough beta carotene to produce a toxic amount of vitamin A, because when the body has enough vitamin A, it stops making it.
A group of phytonutrients called bioflavenoids aids the immune system by protecting the cells of the body against environmental pollutants. Bioflavenoids protect the cell membranes against the pollutants trying to attach to them. Along the membrane of each cell there are microscopic parking spaces, called receptor sites. Pollutants, toxins, or germs can park here and gradually eat their way into the membrane of the cell, but when bioflavenoids fill up these parking spots there is no room for toxins to park. Bioflavenoids also reduce the cholesterol's ability to form plaques in arteries and lessen the formation of microscopic clots inside arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Studies have shown that people who eat the most bioflavenoids have less cardiovascular disease. A diet that contains a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, at least six servings per day, will help you get the bioflavenoids needed to help your immune system work in top form.
Zinc increases the number of infection-fighting T-cells, especially in elderly people who are often deficient in zinc, and whose immune system often weakens with age. The anti-infection hype around zinc is controversial. While some studies claim that zinc supplements in the form of lozenges can lower the incidence and severity of infections, other studies have failed to show this correlation. A word of caution: too much zinc in the form of supplements (more than 75 milligrams a day) can inhibit immune function. It's safest to stick to getting zinc from your diet and aim for 15 to 25 milligrams a day.
For infants and children, there is some evidence that dietary zinc supplements may reduce the incidence of acute respiratory infections, but this is controversial. The best source of zinc for infants and young children is zinc-fortified cereals.
This valuable mineral increases the production of white blood cells that fight infection and helps them fight more aggressively. It also increases killer cells that fight against cancer and helps white cells release more antibodies. Zinc supplements have been shown to slow the growth of cancer. A group of phytonutrients called bioflavenoids aids the immune system by protecting the cells of the body against environmental pollutants. Bioflavenoids protect the cell membranes against the pollutants trying to attach to them. Along the membrane of each cell there are microscopic parking spaces, called receptor sites. Pollutants, toxins, or germs can park here and gradually eat their way into the membrane of the cell, but when bioflavenoids fill up these parking spots there is no room for toxins to park. Bioflavenoids also reduce the cholesterol's ability to form plaques in arteries and lessen the formation of microscopic clots inside arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Studies have shown that people who eat the most bioflavenoids have less cardiovascular disease. A diet that contains a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, at least six servings per day, will help you get the bioflavenoids needed to help your immune system work in top form. Beta carotene increases the number of infection-fighting cells, natural killer cells, and helper T-cells, as well as being a powerful antioxidant that mops up excess free radicals that accelerate aging. Like the other "big three" antioxidants, vitamins C and E, it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by interfering with how the fats and cholesterol in the bloodstream oxidize to form arterial plaques. Studies have shown that beta carotene can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, especially strokes and heart attacks, giving scientific credence to the belief that a carrot a day can keep the heart surgeon away. Beta carotene also protects against cancer by stimulating the immune cells called macrophages to produce tumor necrosis factor, which kills cancer cells. It has also been shown that beta carotene supplements can increase the production of T-cell lymphocytes and natural killer cells and can enhance the ability of the natural killer cells to attack cancer cells. This important antioxidant and immune booster doesn't get as much press as vitamin C, yet it's important to a healthy immune system. Vitamin C tops the list of immune boosters for many reasons. There has been more research about the immune-boosting effects of Vitamin C than perhaps any other nutrient. Vitamin C supplements are inexpensive to produce, and it's available naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Also, you can buy a vitamin-C-fortified version of just about anything. Here's what the research shows about how this mighty vitamin protects your body.
Omega-3 fatty acids.
A study found that children taking a half teaspoon of flax oil a day experienced fewer and less severe respiratory infections and fewer days of being absent from school. The omega 3 fatty acids in flax oil and fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) act as immune boosters by increasing the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that eat up bacteria. (Perhaps this is why grandmothers used to insist on a daily dose of unpalatable cod liver oil.) Essential fatty acids also protect the body against damage from over-reactions to infection. When taking essential fatty acid supplements, such as flax or fish oils, take additional vitamin E, which acts together with essential fatty acids to boost the immune system. One way to get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is to add one to three teaspoons of flax oil to a fruit and yogurt smoothie. This mineral increases natural killer cells and mobilizes cancer-fighting cells. Best food sources of selenium are tuna, red snapper, lobster, shrimp, whole grains, vegetables (depending on the selenium content of the soil they're grown in), brown rice, egg yolks, cottage cheese, chicken (white meat), sunflower seeds, garlic, Brazil nuts, and lamb chops.
RECIPE FOR IMMUNE-BOOSTING SMOOTHIE
Children often don't feel like eating following a cold or illness. Their nutrition suffers and their immune system suffers. This accounts for the common occurrence of getting one infection after another. It's best to keep so well nourished that the nutritional reserves can withstand several days of poor eating. Drink this smoothie daily upon school entry in September, upon beginning daycare, upon exposure to a contagious illness, or when you or your child feels a cold coming on.
2 cups milk or soy or rice beverage 1 cup plain nonfat yogurt 1 serving of a multinutrient supplement one frozen banana, cut up 1/2 cup frozen blueberries 1/2 cup each of your favorite fruit, frozen (e.g., organic strawberries, papaya, mango) 1 tbsp. flax oil or 2 tbsp. flaxseed meal (Because fiber steadies the absorption of carbohydrates and therefore contributes to a steadier blood sugar we suggest using rich sources of fiber, such as flaxseed meal (i.e., ground flax seeds, containing both the oil and fiber), although flax oil has a more palatable consistency than flaxseed meal. For additional fiber, if you don't mind an even grainier texture, add 1 tbsp. or more of oat bran.) 3 ounces tofu 10 mg. zinc 100 mcg. selenium 50-100 IU vitamin E 1 serving soy isolate powder (optional) 2 tbsp. peanut butter (optional)
Combine all the ingredients and blend until smooth. Serve immediately after blending while the mixture still has a bubbly milkshake-like consistency.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT ECHINACEA
What is it and how does it work?
Is there proof that echinacea works?
Is echinacea safe?
How should echinacea be taken and what is the proper dosage?
Studies on the safety and efficacy of echinacea in adults suggest the following dosage:
The dosage in children has not been studied as much, but a sensible amount would be one- half the adult dose for children ages six to thirteen, and one-quarter the adult dose for children under six.
three time a day for a total of 900 milligrams a day. Some people take echinacea all the time to prevent colds and flu, and others take it just for a couple of weeks when they feel the first signs of a cold coming on or if they have been exposed to a contagious viral infection. While there is no scientific evidence that taking echinacea daily for months is harmful, theoretically, taking any immune booster for too long could cause it to lose its punch or could stress the immune system. Another theoretical concern is that any drug that tampers with the genetic material of a virus cell (as echinacea does) could also affect the genetic material of cells in the body or could cause viruses to change genetically and become more resistant and more virulent.
Because of these concerns, taking echinacea as a preventive medicine during the cold and flu season (two weeks on / two weeks off) may be unwise, as there is no scientific basis for this popular regimen. Instead consider the following:
When you feel a cold coming on or have been exposed to a contagious virus, take echinacea for two weeks, then stop.
When you are under stress because of life changes (positive as well as negative)--pressures at work or at home, travel, or any other situation that affects your emotional or physical health-- take echinacea for a couple of weeks.
When entering a situation that challenges the immune system, such as the beginning of school in September, entering a new daycare situation, or exposure to any other new group of people that increases your contact with germs, take echinacea for two weeks.
Feeding your immune system each day is one way to help your medical bills go away.
Overdosing on sugar.
Too much fat.
Obesity can lead to a depressed immune system. It can affect the ability of white blood cells to multiply, produce antibodies, and rush to the site of an infection. Due to a genetic quirk, some divisions of the immune army recognize an otherwise harmless substance (such as milk) as a foreign invader and attack it, causing an allergic reaction. Before the battle, the intestinal lining was like a wall impenetrable to foreign invaders. After many encounters with food allergens, the wall is damaged, enabling invaders and other potentially toxic substances in the food to get into the bloodstream and make the body feel miserable. This condition is known as the leaky gut syndrome. Excessive alcohol intake can harm the body's immune system in two ways. First, it produces an overall nutritional deficiency, depriving the body of valuable immune- boosting nutrients. Second, alcohol, like sugar, consumed in excess can reduce the ability of white cells to kill germs. High doses of alcohol suppress the ability of the white blood cells to multiply, inhibit the action of killer white cells on cancer cells, and lessen the ability of macrophages to produce tumor necrosis factors. One drink (the equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ounces of hard liquor) does not appear to bother the immune system, but three or more drinks do. Damage to the immune system increases in proportion to the quantity of alcohol consumed. Amounts of alcohol that are enough to cause intoxication are also enough to suppress immunity. Eating or drinking 100 grams (8 tbsp.) of sugar, the equivalent of about two cans of soda, can reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by forty percent. The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than thirty minutes after ingestion and may last for five hours. In contrast, the ingestion of complex carbohydrates, or starches, has no effect on the immune system. HOW YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM WORKSAn army of millions of microscopic soldiers operates within you, each one ready to spring into battle against invading germs and to do sentry duty to prevent disease from occurring in the first place. How you feed these soldiers has a great influence on how well they protect you from germs and disease. Because of poor diets, many school-age children and adults have immune systems that don't operate at peak efficiency. They get sick more often. Here's how to have a well-nourished immune system.
Think of the immune system as an army in which each division has a specific job, depending on the enemy they are fighting. Let's meet the troops to see what each kind of defender does.
White blood cells are the body's infantry, the hard-working soldiers on the front lines. These cells patrol the highway of the body's bloodstream, preventing germs from gaining a foothold. There are millions of these microscopic fighters in each drop of blood. There are also many specialized units. For example, when enemy cells try to hide from the main white cell troops, specialized units of white cells, called macrophages (the word means "big eaters"), mount search-and-destroy missions, going into all the nooks and crannies of the body to gobble up harmful invaders.
Suppose a flu virus enters your body, multiplies rapidly, and threatens to overwhelm the circulating white cell army. The main troops can call out the reinforcements. These specialized cells include T-lymphocytes (white cells that originate in the thymus, a tiny gland in front of the heart) and even a special SWAT team called killer lymphocytes.
Chemical messengers and fighters.
The most fascinating aspect of this immune army is the remarkable memory it possesses. It remembers every past battle and learns from experience. If the same, or a similar, germ tries to attack again, the army is ready for it. It recognizes the invader and pounces on it, winning every time. This is the rationale behind immunizations. The small dose of killed virus given in an immunization sets up a training exercise for the immune army. It uses the lessons learned in training to overcome threats from the real germ.
Problems in the ranks.
Cancer cells are another tough challenge to the immune system. These are cells whose internal control mechanism is damaged, allowing the cells to multiply out of control. Most of the time the immune army quickly recognizes these "criminal" elements and eliminates or jails them before they cause damage. Sometimes the cancer culprits go unnoticed for a while, and by the time they are detected, the immune system is powerless to stop them. The battle spreads to other parts of the body (a disease process called metastasis).
Sometimes the immune army mutinies and attacks the very organs it is supposed to defend. Examples of this include diseases such as arthritis (antibodies attacking tissues of the joints), diabetes (antibodies attacking insulin-producing cells in the pancreas), and perhaps multiple sclerosis (in which the immune system may be attacking the myelin sheath of the nerves).
Finally, there are times when the immune system overreacts, in effect, burning an entire village to kill a few terrorists. This hypersensitive response can be triggered with and allergy. The army of white cells not only engulfs the invading allergen, such as a particle from a dust mite in the bedroom, but also releases enough chemicals in this battle to cause other problems, such as wheezing or rashes.
OBOOST YOUR CHILD'S IMMUNE SYSTEM
Do your children seem to catch more than their fair share of illnesses? Here are some ways you can boost their immune system and keep them in school. Take as many of these supplements as you feel is appropriate every day:
Fruits and vegetable supplement
- this mineral is a safe and effective way to boost the immune system. Children up to age 6 years can take 10 to 20 mg per day. Older kids and adults can take 20 to 40 mg per day. - the immune-boosting properties of nature's food is remarkable. If your kids won't eat enough fruits and vegetables, I recommend Juice Plus fruit and veggie supplements. - this simple vitamin can fight off invading germs. Younger kids up to age 6 will benefit from around 250 mg per day. Older kids and adults can take 500 mg per day. Available as a powder, chewable, or capsule. - this natural herb will enhance your own immune system. Many research studies have proven its effectiveness.
- the common name used for this is Acidophillus. These are healthy bacteria that live in our intestines and help with our immune system. The best species of probiotics are lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. Available as liquid, powder, and capsules, children and adults can take as directed. While the immune system works well most of the time, some germs, like the herpes virus, are particularly adept at evading attacks. Herpes can lie undetected in the tissues for long periods of time, only to come out and spread when the army's defenses are down. Then it retreats back into its hideout, lying dormant for months or years before it wages another attack. Some viruses, such as HIV, can even hide within the immune system itself, infiltrating the ranks of the army and destroying it from within. The army of white cells and chemical messengers have a number of chemical weapons available. They can shoot gamma-interferon into the enemy, like a poisonous dart. This substance interferes with the body's ability to reproduce itself. Another special group of white cells, called B-cells, produces chemicals called antibodies, which act like smart missiles, seeking out and attaching themselves to specific germs. Some of these antibodies, called immunoglobulins, poke holes in the germs, so that in essence it "bleeds" to death. Others act like a chemical glue, making the germs stick together so that they can be rounded up easily by the white blood cells. The immune army also guards strategic entry points to the body, such as the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. Within the mucus that lines these passages, specialized immunoglobulin antibodies called secretory IgA patrol the walls and prevent bacteria and allergens from invading the tissues. The immune army has a magnificent communication system. If a germ enters the body through a break in the skin or maybe an infection in the throat the white cells send out chemical messengers that quickly mobilize reinforcements and direct them to the area of infection. Once they reach the battle, these cells produce chemical fighters, known as cytokines (meaning molecules that move to the cells). These cytokines perform all kinds of functions around the infection site to surround the invaders and heal the havoc the enemy has created. They dilate the blood vessels, causing more blood flow and enabling more white cell police to enter the infected area of battle. One well-known cytokine, interferon, even sends a signal back to command headquarters to tell the brain the body needs to rest. This allows the body to concentrate its energies on the battle against the disease. Another important cytokine is called the tumor necrosis factor. It can gobble up cancer cells that are acting like traitors and weakening the body from within. Another task of these cytokine messengers is to tell the body to conserve supplies, such as important nutrients that are needed to win the infection battle. For example, the command center instructs the body to hold onto immune-boosting elements, such as zinc, rather than eliminating it through the kidneys.
When and how much echinacea to take depends on your individual immune system and the medical reason why you want to take it. Best to seek dosage and timing advice from a naturopath or medical doctor knowledgeable about herbal medicines. For example, there are conditions in which you wouldn't want to hype up your immune system, such as illnesses presumably caused by an overactive immune system called "autoimmune diseases."
Studies have not shown any toxic effects of echinacea. The occasional person may experience some G.I. disturbances, such as diarrhea. Absolutely, but the research is not well known in America. The best research on echinacea comes from Germany, a country that is far ahead of the United States in the scientific study of over-the-counter herbal medicines. Echinacea has been studied in Germany using double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, the gold standard for scientific research on drugs. In this type of study, one group gets the real pill and the other group, the control group, gets a look-alike dummy pill. Neither the researcher nor the research subjects know who has gotten which pill until data collection is completed and the data are analyzed. This kind of research is especially necessary in studying herbal medicines to correct for the well-known placebo effect in which even a dummy pill can produce healing effects because of the power of suggestion. A double- blind, placebo-controlled study has shown that echinacea users experienced less frequent and less severe virus infections (colds and flus) by one-third to one-half compared to the group that took dummy pills (which interestingly also reported a decrease in severity of flu symptoms).
Echinacea is one of the top-selling herbal remedies throughout the world. It is also one of the oldest. Not only has this healing herb enjoyed long popularity, it also has been the subject of much scientific research. Echinacea is a native American plant that was recognized over a century ago as a natural infection fighter. It is an immunostimulant, a substance that boosts the body's immune system. Unlike traditional antibiotics that kill bacteria directly, echinacea works indirectly, killing the germ by strengthening your immune system. While the entire echinacea story is still being researched, there is some evidence that it stimulates the body to produce more infection-fighting white blood cells, such as T-lymphocytes and killer white blood cells. It may also stimulate the release of interferons, one of the body's most potent infection-fighting weapons. Interferon kills germs and also infiltrates their genetic control center, preventing them from reproducing. Besides helping the body produce more infection- fighting cells, echinacea helps these cells to produce more germ-eating cells, called macrophages, and it helps these cells eat the germs more voraciously, a process called phagocytosis. Echinacea also prevents bacteria from secreting an enzyme called hyaluronidase, which enables them to break through protective membranes, such as the lining of the intestines and respiratory tract, and invade tissues. Echinacea also seems to search out and destroy some viruses, such as the common cold and flu viruses. Here are some questions you may have about this valuable addition to your home pharmacy. This flavorful member of the onion family is a powerful immune booster that stimulates the multiplication of infection-fighting white cells, boosts natural killer cell activity, and increases the efficiency of antibody production. The immune-boosting properties of garlic seem to be due to its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin and sulfides. Garlic can also act as an antioxidant that reduces the build-up of free radicals in the bloodstream. Garlic may protect against cancer, though the evidence is controversial. Cultures with a garlic-rich diet have a lower incidence of intestinal cancer. Garlic may also play a part in getting rid of potential carcinogens and other toxic substances. It is also a heart-friendly food since it keeps platelets from sticking together and clogging tiny blood vessels.
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