Ways to Boost Your Immunity During Cold and Flu Season

11:16 AM, Jan 8, 2014   |    comments
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Sheryl Lozicki is a Registered Dietitian at Mercy Health Saint Mary's and the Director of Nutrition and Wellness. Today's "On the Menu" segment is a review of the "Top 5" ways to boost your immunity during the cold and flu season.

Right now we are in the perfect storm following the holidays: increased stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, poor diet, and for some, too much alcohol.

1. Frequent Hand Washing and Don't Touch Your Face. To catch a cold or the flu, the virus needs to get in through your eyes, nose or mouth. Every time you touch your face, you increase your chances of getting sick and the average person touches their face 16 times in an hour! Frequent, correctly washed hands will reduce your chances of getting sick, so say the alphabet or count to 20 as you wash and make sure the soap covers your entire hands including between your fingers and beneath your nails.
2. Flu Shot. This is especially important in the very young, older adults or those with poor immune systems, and even younger people in Michigan are being struck with H1N1 this year, causing serious complications, like kidney failure or even death. Children are more apt to catch the virus due to inadequate hand washing, the fact that they touch everything and don't cover their mouth when they sneeze. Older adults are more apt to experience secondary complications related to the flu.
3. Adequate Rest. Lack of sleep reduces your immune system function making you more susceptible to the virus. Even those who get the flu vaccine but are sleep deprived build fewer antibodies, according to research published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. For example, on day 10 post vaccine, the sleep-deprived group had half the antibodies of the control, well-rested group.
4. Regular Exercise. Exercise is a great stress reliever. Chronic stress lowers your resistance to infection. Exercise enhances your immune system by promoting better circulation, which allows cells and other protective agents to do their job more effectively. Research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reviewed the rates of flu in 641 healthy inactive 20-70-year-olds versus moderately active 20-70-year-olds for one year. Those who obtained regular moderate activity lowered their risk of flu by 33% and the greatest benefit was seen in the fall and winter season.
5. Healthy Diet.
• Stay hydrated, preferably in the form of water. It's free and calorie free. Every living cell is made of water so in order for them to function best, they need to be topped off. Fluid also keeps our blood and GI system moving so that we circulate needed nutrients and dispose of those we don't need or that are harmful.
• Eat adequate protein. Protein is part both the body's defense and repair mechanism against infection. Good sources of lean protein include: seafood, lean meat, skinless poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, unsalted nuts, and seeds.
• Eat your 5 a day fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that help ward off illness and keep cells healthy.
o Vitamin A helps keeps our immune system strong by keeping skin and tissues in your mouth, stomach intestines and respiratory system healthy. Good sources of Vitamin A include sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, green leafy vegetables, squash, herbs, red bell peppers, apricots, eggs, cantaloupe and vitamin A fortified dairy products and cereals.
o Vitamin C protects your from infection by stimulating the formation of antibodies and boosting immunity. Good sources of Vitamin C include citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, red and green peppers, papaya, strawberries, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, potatoes and Vitamin C fortified juices and cereals.
o Zinc helps the immune system work properly and is important for wounds to heal. Zinc is found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, low fat milk, mushrooms, spinach, whole grains, beans and nuts.
• Limit alcohol and don't smoke as both of these put a strain on your immune system.
• Eat probiotic rich, low-fat Greek yogurt daily. Greek yogurt is high in protein and contains gut friendly bacteria that will help keep your immune system healthy.

Missing from the list is Vitamin C. Every year during cold and flu season people start consuming more Vitamin C through vitamins, lozenges, tabs, juices and other fortified beverages, but there is very little scientific evidence to support this practice. Increasing your consumption of Vitamin C will not help unless you currently do not meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance for this Vitamin. Unlike for example, calcium, Vitamin A and potassium, Vitamin C is not a gap nutrient meaning the average adult consumes and adequate amount of this vitamin in their diet according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which means it protects your cells from free radicals that cause damage to cells such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, sun damage and other environmental toxins. It is important to maintaining healthy skin, bones and connective tissues and is also important to the absorption of iron. What it won't do is impact the common cold, beyond causing a slightly shorter duration of 8% in adults and 14% in children according to the NIH. So if the average cold lasts 8 days, you can expect to suffer 15 hours less in an adult and about 1 day less as a child. Furthermore, the NIH points out that there is no benefit to taking Vitamin C after you have caught a cold. Their review of the research shows no reduction in duration once your symptoms have started.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for Vitamin C is 90 mg for men, 75 mg for women and if you smoke you should add an additional 35 mg to these numbers. High doses of Vitamin C in excess of 2000 mg/day for adults may promote kidney stone formation and result in diarrhea and an upset stomach and cramps. Always share your use of vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements with your physician and consult the store pharmacist when choosing one.

Join Mercy Health at the Living Well Expo this Friday form 10-8PM and Saturday from 12-8PM at DeVos Place for more health and wellness tips including free classes and workshops from our wellness experts. The tickets are just $8. May you be healthier in body, sharper in mind and happier in spirit in 2014!

Courtesy: Sheryl Lozicki

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