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It’s hard to believe that summer is now a fading memory,  autumn is here and once again, flu season is upon us    Here are 5 simple, powerful ways to strength your immune system naturally and lower your risk of contracting it.

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Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels

We now know that a significant contributor to winter influenza outbreaks is due to the decline of vitamin D levels, due to the lack of sunshine exposure which occurs during summer months. An optimal vitamin D level is critical to your good health.  Its deficiency is linked to sub-optimal functioning of your immune system.  For example, one of the important gene that vitamin D regulates the production over 200 proteins that destroys invading germs.

Several studies have found a relationship between lower respiratory tract infections and low vitamin D levels. That is, the higher your vitamin D level, the lower your risk of contracting colds, flu, and other respiratory tract infections.

Decrease Sugar Consumption:

Sugar causes inflammation, a process that is a key component of most disease processes including influenza.  We also know that sugar consumption has a direct effect on the immune system. A study conducted in 1973 at Loma Linda University found that the function of certain white blood cells (known as neutrophils) that consume and destroy bacteria, is affected by sugar consumption.  The researchers designed the study to determine if sugars other than gluose affected their ability to consume and destroy bacteria in healthy people, the length of the effect, and the impact of fasting on this function.

The results determined that 100 gram (3 tablespoons) portions of sugar from glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, or orange juice all significantly decreased the neutrophils’ ability to absorb  bacteria.  Interestingly, starch did not have this effect. The decrease in functioning was rapid following the ingestion of simple carbohydrates. The greatest effects occurred between 1 and 2 hr after eating, but the values were still significantly below the fasting control values 5 hr after feeding. Also, sugar didn’t decrease the number of neutrophils; it simply decreased their ability to function properly.

Learn  How to More Effectively Cope With Stress

Chronic stress affects your immune system’s ability to respond appropriately and ward off infections, by also suppressing white blood cells functioning as well as antibody production. It  is a leading contributor to chronic diseases and has a significant impact on your immune system’s functioning.  It is much easier develop the flu or catch a cold while experiencing significant stress. This is true for both acute stressful episodes, such as preparing a big project for work, and chronic stress, such as work stress, relationship troubles or grief. Both will suppress your immune system and render your body more susceptible to an infection.  

If you do get the flu, emotional distress can actually worsen cold and flu symptoms.  It is critically important to pay attention to your emotions, and learn how to respond in a healthier manner, to prevent the stress response.  Your perceptions govern the way your body responds to stress.  Also, it’s important to routinely relax and rejuvenate  with healthy activities including  exercise, meditation, massage, laughter, artistic expression, and solid relationships.

Exercise

If you are exercising regularly, just as if your vitamin D levels are optimized, the likelihood of your acquiring the flu or other viral illness decreases quite dramatically, and studies have clearly shown this.

In one study, exercise caused a 50 percent reduction of catching a cold, and decreased the severity of symptoms by 31 percent among those who did catch a cold. The researchers noted that each round of exercise may lead to a boost in circulating immune system cells that could help ward off a virus.

It’s a well-known fact that exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. The job of these cells is to neutralize pathogens throughout your body. The better these cells circulate, the more efficient your immune system is at locating and defending against viruses and diseases trying to attack your body.

Avoid Sleep Deprivation:

Researchers at University of Helsinki researchers found that sleep loss affects the immune system and trigger an inflammatory response. They specifically identified the genes which are most susceptible to sleep deprivation and examined whether these genes are involved in the regulation of the immune system.

Conducted at the sleep laboratory of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the study restricted the amount of sleep of a group of healthy young men to four hours per night for five days, imitating the schedule of a normal working week.

The researchers compared the gene functioning before and after a period of sleep deprivation and focused on those that were altered the most.  They found that the activity of genes that regulate the immune system increased during the sleep deprivation.

Also, the level of certain chemicals produced by the immune system, known as interleukins, or signaling molecules which promote inflammation, increased, as did the amount of associated receptors, and higher gene activity after sleep loss. C-reactive protein (CRP) a well known marker of inflammation, was also elevated.

These results confirm the belief that sleep has a profound impact on not the brain function, but also interacts with our immune system. Sleep loss causes changes to the system that regulates our immune system’s ability to defend the body.  These changes may be long term and  contribute to the development of diseases that have been linked to sleep deprivation.

Eliminate Processed Foods:

Truth be told processed foods in general are not healthy, because they contain harmful additives.  In particular fast foods are detrimental to our health in general and our immune system in particular.  A recent study published in Nutrition Journal evaluated the impact the Western diet and lifestyle has on people’s immune function. It found that the large number of calories in processed and fast food may causes increased inflammation, impaired control of infection, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease.

We also know now that processed foods harm the natural protective bacteria that exist in our intestinal tract.  It is believed that they can permanently change the balance of bacteria in our bodies and weaken the immune system.

Sources: Chronic Conditions-Influenza,

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22797987

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/26/11/1180.abstract

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-10/uoh-nbl102313.php

http://www.nutritionj.com/content/pdf/1475-2891-13-61.pdf

Exercise: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007165.htm

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