Win the Cold War

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Unless you
live in a plastic bubble, you can’t seal yourself away from
all germs in life. They’re everywhere – especially this
time of year. Your best bet to stay healthy is to strengthen your
immune system so it can defeat any microscopic invaders before they
lay siege.

But if you
took all the immune boosters recommended by magazines, books, and
Mom, you’d not only empty your pocketbook, but you’d likely
harm your health too. “Don’t get trapped into thinking
you want to boost your immunity as much as possible,” says
Mark Moyad, MD, director of preventive and alternative medicine
at the University of Michigan Medical Center. “Allergies and
autoimmune diseases are examples of a hyperreactive immune system.”
Moyad suggests taking most immune-bolstering supplements during
cold season but then scaling back for the rest of the year (with
the exception of multivitamins and vitamin D3).

But the question
remains: Which of the myriad supplements and strategies out there
really work? We asked our experts, and you’ll be surprised
at how simple and effective their top picks are.

Shore up
your defenses.
“Lifestyle is the best tool,” says
Mary Saunders, LAc, founder of Boulder Community Acupuncture in
Boulder, Colorado. You’ve heard this a million times, but for
good reason. Getting eight hours of sleep a night, reducing stress,
exercising, staying hydrated, and eating mostly produce, whole grains,
unsaturated fats, and lean protein gives your body the raw nutrients
and energy it needs to manufacture immune cells. These healthy habits
also decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol – which
can suppress immunity in high amounts – and balance the body’s
alkalinity ratio.

“Pathogens
thrive in acidic environments,” says Saunders. “If you
keep your body alkaline, you’re more resistant to infection.”
Coffee, alcohol, sugar, and hard cheeses increase acidity, so limit
your intake. For extra help getting your fruits and veggies, Saunders
recommends green drinks – specifically Designs for Health’s
PaleoGreens (available only through health practitioners), ProGreens
by the Allergy Research Group, and New Chapter’s Berry Green
– that contain at least four servings of vegetables.

Lose an
inch.
Along with lowering your risk of heart disease, “losing
just one inch from around your waist boosts immunity tremendously,”
Moyad says. It does this partly by decreasing inflammation. Normally,
during an acute illness or infection, white blood cells release
inflammatory chemicals that fight bacteria and viruses. In this
case, inflammation is a good thing. But excess belly fat triggers
the release of those inflammatory compounds even in the absence
of a threat. This chronic, low-level inflammation “throws off
the immune system, so it starts treating the body itself as a problem,”
Moyad says. This raises the risk of everything from diabetes to
the common cold. A good trick for dropping the spare tire: Buy a
pedometer, and take at least 10,000 steps a day.

Rinse, gargle,
repeat.
Rinsing your nasal passages and throat with saline water
is so simple you may say “duh,” but in reality, this is
one of the most powerful – and overlooked – actions out
there. Since pathogens enter through the nose, mouth, and eyes,
saline rinses wash away the li’l buggers before they can infect
other tissues. What’s more, in a 2005 Japanese study, people
who gargled daily even with just plain water had significantly fewer
respiratory infections. Moyad recommends rinsing your nose with
a neti pot and gargling with salt water once a day. If you feel
a cold sneaking up, increase that to three times daily. Simply Saline
makes super-convenient gargle packets and nasal sprays.

Embrace
probiotics.
“Most people don’t connect their GI tract
with immune health, but in fact, it plays a major role in protecting
our bodies from infection,” says Jeffrey Bland, PhD, cofounder
of Bastyr University and the Institute for Functional Medicine.
The good bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and
Bifidobacterium lactis, in probiotics balance out the bad,
illness-causing bacteria in your gut, decreasing the chance of infection.
You can get probiotics through supplements (follow the label’s
recommended dosage) or by eating foods with live and active cultures:
yogurt, raw sauerkraut, kefir, and fermented soy foods.

Read
the rest of the article

November
5, 2009

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