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A Boost of Immunity

June 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Health


After months of monitoring, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that swine flu is the first global flu pandemic since 1968. Since April of this year, H1N1 (swine flu), has spread globally to 74 countries across the world. With almost 30,000 people infected and 141 deaths, there are grave reasons why we all need to concern ourselves with our immunity. As pharmaceutical companies gear up to concoct vaccines that could take months to hit the market, boosting your body’s resistance to infection may be your best bet to avert the flu.

Immune system
Immunity is derived from the Latin word immunis, which means free, exempt from burden. In the body, the “burden” is disease and the role of the immune system is to maintain health, i.e: freedom from disease. On a daily basis, the body must defend against millions of pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, worms, and toxins.

There are a number of factors that affect the immune system. Below, you will find some of the most important lifestyle changes to support your immune system: nutrition, exercise and behavioural well-being.

Sugar has been shown to decrease immunity and increase susceptibility to infection. Glucose and other simple sugars, such as fructose, sucrose, honey, and orange juice, have been shown to reduce the capacity of white blood cells to engulf (swallow) pathogenic bacteria. Starch, which is a complex form of carbohydrate, does not have the same effect. In acute infections, refined sugars should be avoided.

Protein deficiency may suppress the immune system and increase susceptibility to infections. Protein malnutrition is one of the four leading causes of disease in developing countries. Since the immune system of the elderly changes in response to age, the impact of protein and calorie malnutrition is more severe in seniors than in adults. Many elderly people have poor nutrition and subsequently, poor immune response, making them more susceptible to infections.

Excessive dietary intake of lipids, particularly omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, may depress the immune system and increase susceptibility to infection. Researchers have demonstrated that large doses of dietary fat impair certain immune cells and their immune functions.

Elevated amounts of dietary cholesterol may increase susceptibility to infection.

Studies have indicated that coffee depresses immunity. Coffee appears to suppress the immune response and reduce the proteins (immunoglobulins) that bind to pathogens.

An active lifestyle and regular exercise improves immune function. Studies have shown that regular, moderate exercise leads to a positive effect on the immune system. Very intense and prolonged exercise, such as running a marathon, may actually increase the risk of developing an infection in the short term.

Behavioural Well-Being
Stress, mood and social support are at the top of the list with respect to well-being. Studies have shown that stress is a co-factor in the development of infection. Mood may enhance or down-regulate the immune system.  Humour may enhance the immune system, while loneliness and depression may do the opposite. A person’s social support network allows them to buffer the many stresses of daily living. Studies have shown that social support strengthens the immune system.

Bringing it all Together
In many of the lifestyle changes suggested above, these work best when combined together. Integration would be the best word for this. In order to support your immune system, you should integrate lifestyle changes related to nutrition, exercise and behavioural well-being.

Take body weight for example. Studies have shown that both excessive thinness and severe obesity are associated with impaired immune function.  In the obese person, the best strategy to lose weight would be to integrate lifestyle changes on nutrition, exercise and behavioural well-being. Incorporating a personalized, integrated program for healthy living is crucial to maintaining a healthy weight and pleasant lifestyle.

Dr. Jean-Jacques Dugoua, Ph.D. (Cand.), is a naturopathic doctor and director of naturopathic medicine and clinical pharmacology at Newtopia, a lifestyle company.


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