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Main Content

Boost Your Immune System | Fall 2004 Out Here Magazine

By Bethanne Black

Flu season is just around the corner, but you don't have to spend it feeling sick and run down. You can strengthen your body's immune system and avoid the bug altogether.

"The immune system is your body's main defense mechanism against viral and bacterial pathogens, as well as tumors," says Simin Meydani, professor of nutrition and immunology at Tufts University, Boston.

Meydani recommends these tips to boost and protect your immune system:


Stock your refrigerator with these immune-boosters:

YOGURT — Yogurt might improve the immune response and reduce diarrhea-related diseases in children, studies show. It also can protect the intestinal tract and may act as an anti-infection agent.

FRUIT — Choose fruits rich in Vitamin C, which increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies. Try oranges, strawberries, papaya, guava, and grapefruit.

YELLOW AND ORANGE VEGETABLES — These foods are loaded with beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant (disease fighter). Beta-carotene is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and cantaloupe.

GREEN, LEAFY VEGETABLES — Green veggies are loaded with Vitamin E. Spinach and broccoli are great choices; just don't overcook them or they will lose their nutrients.

TEA — Certain teas may help your body fight infection, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, found. Black, green, oolong, and pekoe tea yielded the most benefits.


Select a balanced daily diet that includes several servings of fruits and vegetables.


Multivitamins supply micronutrients your body doesn't produce naturally, such as folate, zinc, and vitamins B6, C, and E. Vitamin E especially is a powerful disease fighter that strengthens body cells that fight infection.


Moderate exercise stimulates the number of immune cells that circulate through the body, allowing you to fight infection effectively. Research suggests exercise also helps eliminate toxins in the body by increasing waste output, such as urine and perspiration. A brisk walk is a great way to start an exercise program, but always talk to your doctor before starting any fitness routine.


Adequate rest protects your immune system and allows your body to replenish after daily physical activity. Sleep deprivation appears to weaken the immune system by altering the blood levels of special immune cells and proteins called cytokines.


"Under stress, the body produces compounds that reduce the function of your immune system," Meydani says. Enjoy some relaxing rituals — take a hot bubble bath or curl up with a good book. Prioritize your commitments and make time for friends and family.

Bethanne Black is a freelance journalist who lives in Atlanta.