Natural and Alternative Medicine


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Boosting the Immune System Through Foods We Eat and Donít Eat:
Foods that Increase your Immunity so that your Body can Fight Disease

"Nutrition plays an important part in maintaining immune function," explains George L. Blackburn, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of the division of nutrition at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. "Insufficiency in one or more essential nutrients may prevent the immune system from functioning at its peak."

A healthy diet builds a strong immune system and helps you fight disease, such as Hepatitis C. A healthy diet positively affects your mood and allows you to cope with stress better. Eating for a strong immune system can involve a lifestyle change for some, but it is well worth it!

Try These Foods To Boost Your immunity!

1. Vegetables are huge for enhancing the immune system. Asparagus is very high in Vitamin C which increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies and increases levels of interferon, the antibody that coats cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses. Carrots and sweet potatoes contain high amounts of beta carotene which increases the number of infection-fighting cells, natural killer cells, and helper T-cells, as well as enhance the ability of the natural killer cells to attack cancer cells. Vegetables are the best source of the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that are known to protect the body against many diseases, including cancer. They are best prepared lightly steamed or sauted in olive oil or juiced. You can spice with turmeric (a good anti-inflammatory.)

2. Fresh fruits are also great for the immune system. Berries are particularly noted for their cancer preventative abilities and high antioxidant content. Blueberries, nature's only 'blue' food, are a rich source of polyphenols, potent antioxidants that include phenolics acids, tannins, flavonols and anthocyanins. Pomegranate fruit seeds appear to enhance immune function as well as help keep blood lipid levels healthy. The phytochemicals that color fruits serve as antioxidants that promote immune function, says Charles Stephensen, Ph.D., a research scientist with the USDA's Western Human Nutrition Research Center at the University of California, Davis. "These nutrients help ensure that lymphocytes can divide and reproduce properly in response to a virus and that the neutrophils and macrophages that engulf and kill invading bacteria can do their job," Stephensen says. Try to eat two different color fruits or vegetables at each meal to maximize the variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you are getting.

3. High quality protein is important for maintaining rapid production of cells to support the immune system and boosting energy. As much as possible, look for organic lean meat and poultry. Lean beef, poultry and pork are good sources of Zinc. Zinc helps white blood cells and other antibodies reproduce more quickly, and it makes them more aggressive so they're better at fighting off infections. Zinc also prevents bacterial and viral growth directly, either by poisoning the infectious agents or encouraging immune reaction at the site of infection. Zinc deficiency is one of the most common nutritional shortfalls among American adults, especially for vegetarians. Fish are another good source of protein, especially those high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for building the body's immune response. Vegetarian sources of protein include lentils, beans, nuts, whey, and soy products such as tofu and tempeh, and they have the added benefit of fiber, which meat does not provide. Small quantities of fresh almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds are also good sources for zinc and healthy fats. If you don't consume enough protein, you'll manufacture fewer white blood cells to combat antigens.

4. Mushrooms such as shitake, oyster, and other Asian varieties, are noted for their immune-enhancing abilities. Rich in compounds called beta glucans, mushrooms boost the production of NK-cells and T-cells in your body to help prevent infections. Studies also show that mushrooms increase the production and activity of white blood cells, making them more aggressive which is good for fighting infection.

5. Limit your total fat intake to 30 percent of daily calories, with five to 10 percent from saturated fats. Reducing fat can boost immune function by enhancing T-lymphocyte function. The type of fat you consume is equally important as the amount. Consume sources of unsaturated fats, such as canola oil, olive oil, nuts, avocados, and seeds. And increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids (from fatty fish like salmon, halibut, and sardines), which help fight inflammation and free your immune system to defend against antigens.

6. Whole grains are a valuable source of the vitamins, minerals and fiber that are an essential part of keeping the immune system healthy. Fiber helps cleanse the colon of toxins and helps prevent intestinal infections. Cooked grains can be a great substitute for breakfast cereal, pasta, white rice, and white potatoes. Oats and barley contain beta-glucan, a type of fiber with potent antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities. Eat whole grains not the flour to get all the health benefits. Whole grains: Barley, Brown rice, Buckwheat, Bulgur (cracked wheat), Millet, Oats, Wild Rice, and Quinoa

7. Green tea is a rich source of a type of antioxidant called a catechin, and preliminary research has found that a specific catechin, egcg, may give the beverage antigen-fighting abilities. When researchers at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada added green tea to lab samples of the adenovirus (one of many viruses that causes colds), they discovered that egcg inhibited the virus' ability to replicate. Similarly, researchers in South Korea found that egcg can also stop the influenza virus from replicating. Green tea catechins can improve lymphocyte responses and seem to have anti-inflammatory effects so use it as a replacement for things like soda or coffee. Green tea is also a great source of L-theanine, an amino acid that triggers the release of germ-fighting compounds from your T-cells. In one study, tea drinkers transformed their immune system T cells into "super cells" that pumped out 10 times more cold and flu virus-fighting interferon - proteins that defend against infection!

8. Add yogurt or kefir to your diet daily. These foods contain probiotics, good bacteria that stimulate immune system cells in the gastrointestinal tract. "Normal, healthy bacteria that colonize the GI tract help you resist bad bacteria and detoxify harmful substances," explains Susanna Cunningham-Rundles, Ph.D., a professor of immunology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City. In addition to their protective effect in the gastrointestinal tract, probiotics also may help stimulate immune-cell production system-wide. In a recent study, those who ate ordinary yogurt daily for two weeks raised their T-lymphocyte cell count by nearly 30 percent. Many yogurts also contain vitamin D, which scientists are now focusing on as a critical factor in immune function.

9. Drink lots of filtered or spring water! Water eases the job of the kidneys and liver to process and eliminate toxins from the blood. Water helps keep mucous membranes moist enough to combat the viruses they encounter. Water is also a little known tool for reducing sugar cravings as sugar cravings are often just the result of dehydration. Try to have 6 to 8 glasses of pure water every day. Using a straw helps me drink more. Maybe it will work for you too!

10. Garlic is a powerful immune booster that stimulates the multiplication of infection-fighting white cells, boosts natural killer cell activity, and increases the efficiency of antibody production. Garlic can also act as an antioxidant that reduces the build-up of free radicals in the bloodstream. Garlic may also play a part in getting rid of potential carcinogens and other toxic substances. Eating a healthful, balanced diet that includes whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy sources of protein is the best way to increase immunity and health. "Not only are essential nutrients critical for the production and maintenance of key germ-fighting cells in the immune system, but a balanced diet also has a strong effect on vascular function, and the immune system is dependent on blood flow," says David Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Yale Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Connecticut.

It is also imperative in supporting the immune system to reduce toxin intake. If we can free the immune system up from dealing with foreign substances it can focus its efforts on fighting colds, viruses, and other disease.

To boost the immune system, try to avoid or reduce consumption of:

- Meats treated with antibiotics and growth hormones.

- Processed convenience foods full of additives, dyes and sodium.

- Synthetic foods with hydrogenated or artificial fats and artificial sweeteners.

- Sodas and other foods high in sugar. (When white blood cells are exposed to high levels of sugar in the bloodstream, they have a decreased ability to engulf bacteria and have weakened systemic resistance to all infections.)

- Caffeine. One cup of coffee is enough! Black tea has caffeine too but less than coffee. Caffeine is a diuretic that contributes to the body's loss of important nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium and can raise anxiety levels.

- Alcohol (depresses the nervous system, inhibits the bone marrow's ability to regenerate blood cells, is toxic to the liver, depletes B-vitamins, and is dehydrating) Those with Hepatitis C should not place this extra strain on the liver- ever.

- Hydrogenated vegetable oils, including shortenings and margarine. These are all sources of free radicals. Trans fats (found in margarines and many commercial baked goods) can contribute to chronic low-grade inflammation in the body.

- Nitrates have been shown to cause cancer and should be avoided. They are found in hot dogs, sausages, salami and smoked meats.

- Pesticides and chemical fertilizers in produce that is not organic.

- Too much fried food. High-fat diets appear to impair the immune system by decreasing the function of T-lymphocytes

A poor diet and poor quality foods create a compromised digestive system that leads to poor absorption of important vitamins and minerals, as well as food allergies and a weakened immune system. Begin to eliminate or reduce one or two negatively impacting foods, and at the same time, add more of the beneficial ones. Notice how this starts to affect your digestion, your energy level, even your moods. As you start to feel better, you will be more motivated to keep making changes. Adequately feeding your immune system boosts its fighting power. It will feel good to know that your health is improving and you are in charge of this change! Supporting your immune system is one of the best tools you have to help you fight disease, such as Hepatitis C, whether you pursue conventional or alternative medicine.

To read more on the role of the immune system in fighting Hepatitis C click here.