Are you one of those people who seem to catch whatever bug is going around? Do colds and other respiratory infections seem to drag on and on and bring you down lower than they should?

It’s true that our immune system tend to weaken with age; that’s why older people generally don’t respond as well to vaccinations as younger people,and why the flu can be fatal in elderly folks. But no matter what your age. It’s well within your power to boost your defenses.

The various elements of the immune system are often linked to troops in an army that protects your body. And as the Emperor Napoleon once said, “An army marches on its stomach.” When we don’t eat well enough (or we don’t get enough sleep and exercise,or we feel stressed), that army gets sluggish. Perhaps not weak enough to sound any serious alarms, but just enough to allow bacteria, viruses, and parasites to slip through the defenses. Even minor deficiencies of key micro-nutrients like zinc, selenium, and iron can hamper your body’s ability to fend off disease and infection.

Before the next cold and flu season comes along, consider giving your diet a “shot in the arm.” That can be as simple as enjoying a delicious shrimp dinner now and then, spicing up your meals with more garlic, and cutting back on the fatty and sugary foods that work against you.

Chicken, fish, beans, eggs, yogurt, and other foods high in protein

foods high in proteinProtein is the building block for many of the immune system’s key players, like antibodies and the white blood cells that search out and destroy germs and cancer cells. Many protein foods are also great sources of zinc, iron, and many B vitamins, all of which are essential for strong immune function.

The typical Western diet isn’t lacking in protein, but elderly people and vegetarians in particular need to be sure they get enough. If you eat meat, pass on the greasy burgers and fried chicken and choose lean beef and skinless chicken; as you’ll later read, saturated fats and fried foods promote the kind of low-grade inflammation in the body that can be a slow drain on your immune resources.

Try to aim for 3 or 4 ounces of protein– the amount in a serving of meat or fish the size of a deck of cards or in a half cup of peas– twice a day; have more if you’re larger or more active than average.

Sardines can be triply protective. Not only are they lean protein but they also contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids along with good amount of zinc and selenium, two other important immunity boosters.

Pumpkin seeds

pumpkin seedsNow you’ve got good reason to save those seeds when you’re carving up pumpkin– a half cup contain about 6 milligrams of zinc, which is new of the most critical nutrients for overall immune function. Studies show that people who are zinc deficient (which is common with with age ) have a more difficult time fending off garden-variety infections. The current recommendation for zinc is 15 milligrams, though if you’re prone to illness, you may want to aim for 30 milligrams daily. That’s a lot of pumpkin seeds, so you may want to add some oysters or crabs to your diet. Not a fan of shellfish? Dark-meat turkey is another god source, as is beef.

Helpful hint: You can quickly “roast” pumpkin seeds in your microwave. Put some olive oil in a microwave-safe baking dish and heat for 30 seconds. Then add the pumpkin seeds and cook on high for 7 to 8 minutes, turning every 2 minutes. Not into microwaving? You can also dry pumpkin seeds in the oven (15 minutes at 200 degrees Fahrenheit).

Brazil nuts

brazil nutsThese nuts are nature’s number one source of the immunity-supporting antioxidant mineral selenium. When we’re low on selenium, or white blood cells are slower to kill off microbes and tumor cells. In addition, because selenium protects cells from free-radical damage, it’s been suggested that a deficiency sets the stage for harmless virus to mutate into more aggressive strains. And with a fatigued immune system, these more dangerous viruses can then mutate and reproduce out of control. This may be why selenium-deficient HIV patients are far more likely to develop AIDS and die faster. Getting enough selenium rejuvenates immune cells so they’re able to clobber the germs.

Each Brazil nut contains 75 to 100 micrograms of selenium, so just one or two a day will do it because the recommended amount of selenium is relatively low– 70 micrograms for men and 55 micrograms for women, though some experts believe 200 micrograms is more beneficial. If you tend to catch every cold going around, aim for the higher amount. You’ll also find that selenium in salmon, crab, and shrimp (between 34 and 40 micrograms in a 3-4 ounce portion).

Yogurt with active cultures

active probioticAbout 70 percent of the immune system resides in your gut, so it stands to reason that a healthy gastrointestinal tract means a healthy immune system. The live cultures found in certain yogurts work by populating your GI tract with friendly bacteria, like lactobacillus acidophilus, to ward off the bad bugs. You can think of it as being like a neighborhood watch program in a small city. As in any city, good and bad elements coexists. But the more friendly bacteria you have, the less likely you are to be attacked by the nastiest bugs.

Tea

green teaIt’s believed that one reason the Japanese have lower rates of many diseases (including cancer) is that they drink so much green tea, a major storehouse of immunity-boosting compounds, including potent antioxidants like EGSG. Some research suggests that green tea is helpful for fending off the bugs that cause flu and diarrhea, whooping cough, pneumonia, and even cavities. Even black tea appears to have immunity-enhancing properties. A small study at Harvard Medical School that examined immune function in coffee drinkers compared to tea drinkers found that when blood taken from all the study participants were exposed to E. coli bacteria, the tea drinkers immune cells responded about five times faster than the coffee drinkers’. Researchers believe its the compound L-theanine in black tea that helps to rally immune function. One or two cups daily is optimal for general health. If you’re sick, try to drink three to four cups daily.

Garlic

garlicGarlic’s a friend of the immune system, especially when eaten raw. For starters, it’s an edible antibiotic, with strong antibacterial properties. It also fights viruses. And its sulfur compounds are surprisingly rich in antioxidants. Chop or crush your garlic, then let it stand for 10 to 15 minute to fully release its healing properties.

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