Fall Leaves

Feed your immune system this Fall

Today is the first day of Fall. No time to spare on a cold this year? Try beefing up your immune system as a first line of defense against winter-time illnesses. Eating a varied and balanced diet with a daily exercise routine all can help boost immunity, but there are specific foods that will add a little extra kick to that.

By ingesting the right immune “boosters,” you’re increasing your ability to help battle germs. Studies have linked a number of foods and nutrients to strengthening the immune system. Here are the top eight nutrients (and foods) to add to your diet to cut down on days missed from work:

  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies. Deficiencies have been shown to increase blood pressure. Around 200 milligrams a day can be obtained by eating six servings of citrus fruits and vegetables a day; broccoli is another good choice.
  • Vitamin E: This antioxidant stimulates immune cells that produce antibodies that destroy bacteria. You need 100-400 milligrams per day and can get these from a diet rich in nuts, vegetable oils, and whole grains. Vitamin E has been implicated in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Carotenoids: These nutrients increase the number of white cells and serve as a powerful antioxidant. Carotenoids can be found in vegetables that are orange in color such as carrots and yams.
  • Bioflavenoids: They can protect cells from environmental pollutants and reduce cholesterol’s ability to form plaque that can lead to heart attack and stroke. A diet that contains a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, at least six servings a day, will help keep your immune system in top form.
  • Vitamin D3: In the winter with less daylight it can be tough to get enough from direct sunlight.  Supplements are available at most health food and grocery stores. Aim for about 2,000 to 5,000 IU per day. The current recommended daily allowance is too low and outdated.
  • Zinc: This valuable mineral increases the production of white blood cells against infection. It’s safest to get your zinc intake from diet. Sources include beef, turkey, beans, oysters, and crab.
  • Garlic: Garlic stimulates infection-fighting white cells, acts as an antioxidant, and keeps platelets from sticking together and clogging tiny blood vessels. Odorless, tasteless garlic supplements are an option.
  • Selenium: This mineral mobilizes cancer-fighting cells. One Brazil nut provides an entire day’s recommended intake of selenium. Other sources with limited amounts include tuna, red snapper, lobster, shrimp, whole grains, brown rice, egg yolks, cottage cheese, chicken-white meat, sunflower seeds, garlic, and lamb chops.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in flax oil and fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, help minimize inflammation, which is commonly associated with infection.  Aim for 2,000 mg daily.

Nutritionists recommend getting as many vitamins and minerals as possible through food, rather than supplements because the body absorbs nutrients from food more effectively. Before taking any supplements make sure to talk with your health care provider about what kinds and amounts are appropriate for you.

In addition to what you eat, there are certain lifestyle changes that can boost your immune system, including:

  • Wash hands often with soap and warm water; also use of a hand sanitizer.
  • Cook meats thoroughly.
  • Get at least eight hours of sleep.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly (cardiovascular and strength exercises).
  • Reduce processed, refined sugars.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Manage stress levels.
  • Get your recommended vaccines according to age and current medical condition.

About the author

Gabriela Pichardo-LaFontaine, MD

Gabriela Pichardo-Lafontaine, MD, is an Internal Medicine specialist at Scott & White Clinic - Round Rock 425 University.

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Feed your immune system this Fall