J.E. Williams, OMD, is a naturopathic doctor, acupuncturist and doctor of Oriental medicine. He is the author of Beating the Flu and Viral Immunity. DrJEWilliams.com
Even people who pay close attention to their health often could be doing more to boost their immunity.
Your body’s immune system consists of specialized cells and chemicals that kill and/or inactivate viruses and other invaders. When viruses invade your body, they not only can trigger colds and the flu, but also Epstein-Barr infections (which have been implicated in hepatitis and certain cancers) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Latest development: Immunity researchers are confirming the profound importance of eating a healthful diet — and finding other helpful ways for you to protect yourself from viruses.
Some people forget that good nutrition is as important for strong viral immunity as it is for the health of your heart and arteries. Despite all the talk about eating healthfully, most people fall short in at least one key food group.
Best immunity-boosting diet…
If it’s difficult to maintain this daily diet, I recommend taking supplements to compensate for any missing nutrients. In addition to a daily multivitamin, take 200 mg to 500 mg of vitamin C… 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E… 200 micrograms (mcg) of selenium… and 15 mg of zinc.
Other ways to maximize your body’s virus-fighting power…
My advice: For optimal benefit from a generally healthful diet, avoid all fried foods. Grill (with low heat), boil, steam or bake your food instead.
My advice: Drink alcohol in moderation (up to one drink daily for women… two for men) — or not at all.
Even though some experts don’t believe that it’s necessary to drink as many as eight eight-ounce glasses of water daily, I stand by this advice. If you exercise — even if you don’t sweat — you need even more water, because greater amounts of it are lost from the lungs due to exhalation. During winter, excessively heated rooms also deplete water from your body.
My advice: Don’t count soda, juice or other sugary beverages as part of your daily water quota. Drink pure spring water, such as Evian or Volvic, or filtered tap water. It helps flush viruses from your body without the immune-depressing effects of sugar and other additives.
My advice: Most people need at least eight hours of sleep each night to restore normal body functions. If you feel rundown or are battling the early stages of a cold or other viral infection, try to get even more sleep.
Important: Just being in bed for eight hours does not count if you’re having trouble falling asleep or are waking up during the night. If this occurs, ask your doctor for advice on improving the quality of your sleep.
But overly strenuous workouts, such as running a marathon, can have the opposite effect — triggering the production of cortisol, adrenaline and other stress hormones that suppress immune function and increase your odds of contracting an infection.
My advice: Up to one hour a day of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking, bicycling or swimming) is right for most people. Let your body be your guide — if you feel exhausted and generally worse after you exercise, cut back.
My advice: Take a dry sauna once or twice weekly. Don’t exceed 20 minutes, and drink at least an extra quart of pure water to compensate for what you lose through perspiration.
Caution: Saunas may not be safe for people over age 65 or anyone who is weak or has a fever.
The leaves, stems and roots of some plants are concentrated sources of powerful antiviral compounds. Unless you have a chronic viral infection, such as chronic hepatitis, it’s usually best not to take these on a regular basis.
However, if you’re under considerable stress, feel rundown or are exposed to viral illnesses, consider taking one or more of the following supplements throughout cold and flu season… *
To prepare: Simmer 30 g of dried astragalus root in one cup of water for 20 minutes. Or take two to three 500-mg capsules twice daily.
Caution: Don’t take ginseng if you have high blood pressure, a fever or an active infection. This herb also should be avoided by people who take a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) antidepressant, such as phenelzine (Nardil) or tranylcypromine (Parnate).
*If you use prescription medication, are pregnant, nursing or have a chronic disease, such as diabetes or heart, liver or kidney disease, do not take any of these supplements without consulting your doctor.