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Sick of Being Sick?


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

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14 research-proven ways to eat, drink, and even party to boost your immunity this season


Winter bugs don't just make you feel miserable. Sick days create havoc at home and work. And those days can become weeks if a cold morphs into something more serious — a sinus or ear infection, or bronchitis. Flu can lead to pneumonia or worse, sometimes sending you to the hospital. And while antibiotics fight many of these secondary infections, there's no cure for the viruses that make you sick in the first place. That's why you need a good defense — immune boosters like these that really work.

1. Roll up your sleeve

A flu vaccine is the best way to improve your "immune profile," says William Schaffner, M.D., president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. The vaccine, which is between 70 and 90 percent effective in preventing the illness or reducing its severity, is reformulated every year in anticipation of what scientists believe will be the dominant circulating strains. But even if it's not a perfect match, you'll get at least partial protection, Dr. Schaffner notes. Now is also a good time to check recommendations for vaccination against 2009 H1N1 ("swine") flu.

2. Take up tai chi and qigong

These Eastern systems of meditative movement could boost your body's response to a flu shot, a study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has found. Older adults who got the vaccine and then practiced tai chi and qigong an hour a day, three times a week, for three weeks had significantly higher flu antibodies than seniors who just got the shot.

3. Stay rested

When volunteers in a study at Carnegie Mellon University were exposed to a cold bug, those who regularly slept seven or fewer hours a night were three times more likely to come down with sniffles than those who got eight-plus hours of rest. "We were surprised how little sleep loss it took to cause a big increase in cold risk," says lead study author Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., professor of psychology. Quality counted even more than quantity: Just 38 minutes of tossing and turning upped cold risk fivefold for eight-hour sleepers.

4. Take the right vitamin

Research has confirmed megadoses of vitamin C won't do much to prevent colds. But the next one in the alphabet may. Research from the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and Harvard showed that people with the lowest blood levels of vitamin D had significantly more respiratory infections than those with the highest. If you don't have enough D, you produce lower amounts of the proteins that kill bacteria and viruses, explains Adit Ginde, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of surgery. To get levels up to cold-fighting strength, most people need at least 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day.

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