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How to Strengthen Immune System to Prevent Colds and Flu?

By November 9, 2008 - 6:50pm
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My friend sent me an email, to post on EmpowHer.com for her:

I have been sick A LOT...about once every month, lasting for a week. I am around 20 preschoolers every week, which accounts for some of my illnesses. But, I used to be the one at work who everyone joked with, saying that "I never get sick". I went years without using any sick leave, however, I was not around little kids at that time, either (I was around 40-50 highschool-aged kids instead).

I am in my mid-thirties, and my Allergist said I will be more susceptible to respiratory-related illnesses due to my severe allergies. I am currently undergoing immunotherapy treatment.

I wash my hands often, try to eat healthy foods. When I exercise, I make it a few weeks before I am flat on my bottom with another cold/respiratory illness. I want to be able to workout.

I do eat sweets everyday (cookie or cupcake). Does that affect my immune system? What can I do to boost, energize, strengthen or build my immunity, so I feel healthy again?! I'm open to any traditional and non-traditional remedies. This is affecting my life, as I try not to be around my family and friends (or retail stores, grocery stores, etc) for fear of spreading my germs. That is no way to live!!

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Thanks, everyone!

I will be sending my friend all of this information, as well as looking into some of this for myself---I think everyone can benefit from these general wellness ideas!

As for immunotherapy (http://www.acaai.org/public/advice/IT.htm), it is basically like Susan C. mentioned regarding cancer, but is used for allergy sufferers. "Immunotherapy" in this case is a fancy word for "allergy shots", where the allergens (dust, dander, pollen, etc) are injected in incrementally increased doses over the course of 6 months, with a subsequent maintenance dose that occurs over the next 1-5 years. It is thought that the injected allergens cause the immune system to become less sensitive to the allergens or substances (immunotherapy can be used with asthma as well) over time.

November 11, 2008 - 2:16pm

Alison, sorry your friend is having so much trouble. Being around those 20 preschoolers surely has a large part in this; she's actually exposed to each of those kids PLUS every member of their families PLUS any other child they interact with, on a daily basis. That's a lot of exposure, especially in cold and flu season.

Women Fitness offers their Top 10 ways to building a strong immune system:


Go read the article for more details on each of these, because next to each one of them is a box of specifics. But the basics are:

1. A well-balanced diet

2. Fruits and vegetables. "A steady and balanced intake of essential vitamins and mineral helps to keep our immune systems working properly by providing us protection from infections and disease."

3. Plenty of rest

4. Exercise

5. 6-8 glasses of water a day

6. Vitamin C

7. zinc and magnesium

8. Avoiding excess caffeine or alcohol

9. Avoiding smoke, air pollution and other environmental pollutants

10. Managing stress. "There is a strong data that documents the impact of stress on immunity and susceptibility to illness. A report of 276 volunteers exposed to a common cold virus showed that those who had been under stress for more than a month were most likely to get sick."

Sounds like your friend has good attention to diet and exercise; maybe some of these other areas will give her some help.

In terms of whether sugar affects the immune system: There is some evidence that suggests it does. This study showed ingesting 100 mg of sugar can depress the immune system for up to 5 hours:


Here's a page on what happens when sugar enters the bloodstream:


November 10, 2008 - 10:53am

Alison, I'm sorry to hear that your friend is experiencing this. Coincidentally, my husband, who only took 10 sick days in 18 years of employment is going through something similar. We are trying to determine the cause of the issue as well.

Like you, one of the aspects we're considering is diet. Prevention magazine did a piece on immunity-boosting foods and recommended beef, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, tea and kefir. The last one was new to me. I've also read that millions of women do not receive enough magnesium in their diet which can lead to allergies, depression, fatigue and more. Have you chatted with your doctor about the ways diet may influence health?

Can you share more about what's involved in immunotherapy? Thanks Alison.

November 10, 2008 - 8:12am
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