Tips to keep your immune system healthy

By Georgia Clark-Albert, Special to the BDN
Posted Jan. 31, 2011, at 6:09 p.m.

What if you could make it through this winter without ever having a cold? No sneezing, sniffling, coughing, headaches or blowing your nose. Is it really possible? It seems that most of us come down with at least a couple of colds each year, especially if we have school-aged children.

Maintaining a healthy immune system is one of the best ways to prevent illness. One key player in our immune health is our gut, or digestive tract. It accounts for 25 percent of the immune cells in the body and provides 50 percent of the body’s immune response.

Our immune system is our shield against disease. It protects us from viruses, bacteria and parasites that cause infectious diseases. By eating healthful foods and strengthening our immune system we stand a better chance of counteracting the aging process and warding off diseases.

Recently, sales of “functional foods,” particularly the dietary supplements known as probiotics, have been on the increase as immune system boosters. However, looking to probiotics as a way to support immune health is not new. This idea first surfaced more than 100 years ago.

Probiotics are live bacteria that help restore the balance of protective microorganisms that normally populate a healthy gut. Probiotics are naturally present in some familiar foods, including cultured dairy and soy products such as yogurt. Other foods have probiotics added to them to enhance their immune-boosting benefits. In addition, probiotics are available as dietary supplements.

It doesn’t really matter if the probiotic is in a food or in a supplement. If you pick a product from a trusted manufacturer, you are more likely to get an effective and consistent dose each time.

Other immunity-boosting tips include:

• Drink plenty water. Even in the winter we need fluids to promote a healthy immune response to infection. Water is one of the best choices because it gets the job done, costs almost nothing and is calorie-free.

• Consume an adequate amount of protein. Protein is a building block for a healthy body, mind and immune system.

• Eat those fruits and vegetables. They contain important antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber to support your immune system. Try to get a good source of vitamin C each day -— oranges top my vitamin C list, but other sources include strawberries, kiwifruit, potatoes and members of the broccoli family.

• Spend time outside. Physical exercise promotes blood circulation and oxygen delivery to cells, important elements of disease resistance and recovery. Breathing fresh outside air also helps counteract the stale and sometimes germ-contaminated air we are exposed to indoors.

• Get plenty of rest. Most children need nine hours; adults can do with a little less. Sleep recharges our metabolism, helps balance hormone levels, promotes clear thinking and supports overall good health.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian who lives in Athens. She writes a regular column on diet and nutrition and welcomes questions and comments from readers. Read more of her columns and post questions online at www.bangordailynews.com or e-mail her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/01/31/health/tips-to-keep-your-immune-system-healthy/ printed on September 19, 2014