Strengthening Your Immune System

By Dr. Robert Goldman, M.D., Ph.D.

and Ronald Klatz, M.D., D.O.

We are in a constant state of war with billions of other creatures — bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites — on us, around us and in us. Although some are harmless, others are eating away at us, causing chronic infections and manifesting as fatigue, premature aging, baldness, skin problems, digestive disorders, periodontal disease and more.

Science is finding that most, if not all, chronic diseases have an infectious component. Infection is a key component in everything from gastritis (H. Pylori) to gonorrhea, from acne to Alzheimer’s Disease, from carbuncles to cardiac arrest. Infectious disease may well be the trigger that accelerates the onset and/or progression of the chronic degenerative diseases of aging.

Maintaining a strong immune system is among the most beneficial ways in which to reduce your odds of succumbing to infectious disease.    In this article, we provide some tips to strengthen your immune system.

Breakfast As the Best Defense. People who eat breakfast are less likely to catch a cold or the flu, found researchers from Cardiff University  in the UK. The team speculates that a hearty breakfast fuels the immune system with cellular energy. Additionally, people who routinely miss breakfast are more likely to have more stressful, hectic lives, which may weaken immune defenses and increase the chances of getting an infection. Start your day with fresh fruit (oranges or berries) or unsweetened juice, dairy foods (low-fat milk or yogurt), and whole grains (whole-grain hot or cold cereals, whole-wheat toast).

Exercise Away Sickness. People who maintain a physically active lifestyle enjoy the benefits of a stronger immune system into older age. University of Colorado-Boulder researchers found that there is an age-related decline in the antibody responses to signals that elicit the immune response. Physical activity helps to maintain a more optimal T cell-mediated response, and is especially important in those in their 50s, 60s and beyond, because older people tend to be immunocompromised.

A Touchy Situation. In 2005, the American Society for Microbiology in the US reported that while 91 percent of American adults say they always wash their hands after using public restrooms, in actuality only 83 percent actually did so. Women were more likely to wash their hands (90 percent) as compared to men (75 percent). The same survey also revealed these other lackluster hand washing habits:

•     Only 21 percent of men and women say they always wash their hands after handling money.

•     Only 24 percent of men and 39 percent of women say they always wash their hands after coughing or sneezing.

Protective Pets. Children in families with cats or dogs have fewer pet allergies than new pet owners or those who had only been exposed earlier in life. A 2005 study by researchers at the Central Hospital of Norrbotten in Sweden, which tracked 2,454 children for four years, found that, in all cases where allergies were not a result of genetics, exposure to animal allergens protected boys and girls from developing allergies. A previous study, conducted by researchers at the Institute for Social Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in Germany found that children who were continually exposed to pets (in this study, cats) were 67 percent less likely than other kids to develop asthma and 45 percent less likely to develop hay fever.

Kitchen Germ-ination. The kitchen can be a germination ground that breeds bacteria that may contaminate food and can then make us sick. There are about 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses a year, and most of them occur from bugs in our very own homes. While no kitchen will ever be germ-free, here are some tips that can help reduce the bacteria that might transfer into food:

•     Wash your hands before beginning to prepare food. Wash them again after you touch raw meat, fish or vegetables, and between touching these different foods (to reduce cross-contamination).

•     Microwave kitchen sponges on high for one minute until steaming, every day.

•     Launder or microwave dishcloths regularly, three or more times a week.

•     Clean the kitchen sink drain, disposal and connecting pipe once a week. Sanitize them by pouring down the sink a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach in about 1 liter of water.

Out of the Cold. In the course of a year, people in the United States suffer 1 billion colds, reports the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A 2005 study by researchers at the Federal Research Centre of Nutrition and Food in Germany found that those men and women who took daily vitamins and minerals with probiotics (bacteria that can activate the immune system, particularly T-cells) for at least three months reported reduced cold symptoms than those suffered by people who took only vitamins and minerals.

Probiotic bacteria, in the form of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, are found in respectable amounts in yogurt.

In conclusion, we remind you to maintain a strong immune system to ward off infectious disease, which as a group are preventable and avoidable contributors that may compromise the quality, or quantity, of your life.

Drs. Goldman and Klatz are the co-founders of the anti-aging medical movement and serve, respectively, as chairman and president of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of technology to detect, prevent and treat aging-related disease and to promote research into methods to retard and optimize the human aging process.

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