Eating Food to Boost Your Immunity

Some foods have exceptional immune boosting ability, either helping you to recover from or to prevent illness. Here’s a list of some healing foods compiled from articles in the SuperMarket Guru, Prevention Magazine  and Yoga Journal :

Many of us have heard that live active cultures, also known as probiotics, help replenish healthy bacteria in the gut that are destroyed when we take antibiotics. According to an excellent Yoga Journal article, probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, is prevalent in foods such as kimchi, yogurt, and kefir. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda suggest that a shortage of “good” bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract can affect nearly every system in the body, from your respiratory system to your digestion. Some western scientists are discovering that replenishing the levels of certain beneficial strains of these bacteria may alleviate long-standing health conditions, even if you haven’t been taking antibiotics. Gary Huffnagle, author of The Probiotics Revolution and a professor of internal medicine, microbiology, and immunology at the University of Michigan Medical School says, “Bacteria are not only the causes of disease but also the cause of good health.”

Trillions of microorganisms of various strains reside in the GI tract, from the stomach to the colon. According to Huffnagle, this is also where the immune system, the body’s seat of overall well-being, is based. Here, deep in your gut, is where the power struggle for health occurs. When the body first detects harmful bacteria, either an overgrowth of harmful bacteria or invaders from the outside, it generates an immune response that both makes you sick and, ideally, kills the offenders. The body’s reaction to beneficial bacteria like probiotics, is the opposite. Huffnagle says these good microbes calm the immune response not just in your stomach but all over your body, increasing your well-being and protecting you, in some cases, from harmful bacteria.

You can get probiotics in supplement form as well as from foods. If you do so, choose a product with a high colony-forming unit (CFU) number. Between 3 billion and 15 billion CFUs are necessary to affect the course of many illnesses. Huffnagle suggests choosing freeze-dried capsules that are kept refrigerated to extend the product’s shelf life.

Our immune cells also depend on zinc to function optimally, so including zinc rich foods in our diet is important. Raw crimini mushrooms, spinach, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and beef tenderloin are rich in zinc.  In general, do not exceed a maximum daily dosage of 50 mg of zinc per day, because if you overdo it, it can actually reduce your immune response! Read more about zinc here.

Garlic contains antibiotic properties due to the chemical allicin that exerts antibacterial and anti-fungal effects. According to Prevention Magazine, British researchers gave 146 people either a placebo or a garlic extract for 12 weeks; the garlic takers were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold. Other studies suggest that garlic lovers who eat more than six cloves a week have a 30% lower rate of colorectal cancer and a 50% lower rate of stomach cancer. Suggested optimal dose: Two raw cloves a day and add crushed garlic to your cooking several times a week.

What else should you eat if you are feeling a bit under the weather? Soups and broths can be a great way to ingest phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that your body needs to heal. They also keep you hydrated, helping to flush toxins out of your system. Chicken soup has actually been tested! When University of Nebraska researchers tested 13 brands, they found that all but one (chicken-flavored ramen noodles) blocked the migration of inflammatory white cells-an important finding, because cold symptoms are a response to the cells’ accumulation in the bronchial tubes. The amino acid cysteine, released from chicken during cooking, chemically resembles the bronchitis drug acetylcysteine, which may explain the results. The soup’s salty broth keeps mucus thin the same way cough medicines do. Added spices, such as garlic and onions, can increase soup’s immune-boosting power.

Other “natural immune boosting” foods include fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and in some cases, vitamin C.
Honey and cinnamon are also helpful according to some sources. Cinnamon is considered an antifungal and antibacterial agent. Combine cinnamon and honey for a well-rounded antibiotic effect. Raw honey has been used for thousands of years to suppress the growth of bacteria and fungus.

As always, check with your pharmacist or health professional for the latest on nutrient/medication interactions to stay informed and to stay well.

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Date: Friday, 25. March 2011 14:22
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