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How to Use Your Immune System to Stay Healthy

Building Healthy Immunity continued...

A diet rich in antioxidant vitamins, on the other hand, can boost resistance to infection. Think about eating in color: dark green, red, yellow, and orange fruits and veggies are packed with antioxidants. Try berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

Other immune-boosting foods include fresh garlic, which may have antiviral and antibiotic properties, and old-fashioned chicken soup. Studies show that, if you do come down with a cold or the flu, a bowl of steaming chicken soup can ease inflammation and help you get well faster.

And mushrooms such as reichi, maitake, and shiitake may have a strong influence on immune function as well as enhance the production of chemicals that help your body respond to infection.

Get enough sleep: Regular bouts with insomnia may not only leave you feeling fatigued during the day, but also leave you vulnerable to illnesses, including colds, flu, and other infections. Long term, poor sleep also has been shown to increase the risk of other health problems, including obesity and diabetes.

The body uses sleep as a means of healing itself, says Scott Berliner, president and supervising pharmacist at Life Science Pharmacy in New York. When we don’t get enough sleep – or reach the deeper stages of sleep – healing is impaired.

It’s hard to measure exactly sleep’s protective effect on the immune system, and researchers don’t know precisely how sleep improves immunity. Like antioxidants, sleep may help reduce oxidative stress, which then stops cells from being weakened and harmed. But “clearly, sleep – at least seven hours a night – is associated with increased resistance to infectious diseases,” says Polsky.

Practice stress management: When your body is under constant stress, you’re more vulnerable to everything from the common cold to major diseases.

“Stress from time to time is not necessarily a bad thing. But to not have relief from the stress -- to be under constant stress -- is deleterious to health,” says Polsky. That’s because a steady cascade of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, weaken the immune system.

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