How to Boost Your Immune System
Humans tend to lie low when temperatures dip. But not viruses. They thrive in the cold, dry air of winter. What you need to know to stay healthy during flu season and beyond.
The nose-blowing commuter. The relentless office cougher. The sneezing fellow shopper. Victims of colds and the flu: They’re everywhere. Fortunately, you don’t have to be one of them. While viral strains cleverly morph from year to year (with some even outwitting antiviral drugs), scientists are discovering equally clever ways to boost the immune system so those miserable symptoms are less intense or avoided altogether. Here, the latest measures for a sniffle-free winter.
First, How Your Immune System Works
Viruses are the culprits behind both colds and the flu, sneaking into your body as you breathe or hitching a ride on your hands and into your eyes, nose, or mouth. Luckily, the immune system does surveillance 24/7 to prevent viruses (and harmful bacteria, which can live without a human host and lurk year-round) from taking over entirely, says Susan Blum, M.D., the author of The Immune System Recovery Plan ($16, amazon.com). When immune cells sense that something is astray, they release chemicals that attempt to kill the virus. The unfortunate side effects: sneezing, coughing, sore throat. If the virus continues to spread, white blood cells parachute in, releasing more chemicals that trigger more collateral damage: muscle ache, fatigue, and (with the flu) high fever. But don’t worry. You’ll probably recover within a week or so. What’s more, that battle has triggered the production of antibodies, compounds that will keep you from falling ill from that particular virus again.