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What Can We Control When It Comes To Exposure To Viruses?

yogurt_berriesBy Deirdre Imus-After months of speculating when, how and where Ebola would appear in this country, we finally have our answers: last week; a man traveling from Liberia to eventually Dallas, Texas. It’s easy to fret over this development. Instead, seize this opportunity to boost your immune system so that your body is more resistant and resilient against all kinds of viruses. But in addition to this Ebola, there’s lots of other, less famous viruses out there that could invade your body. Help deter them in the first place by boosting your best defense: your immune system!
 
We’ve all been told hand washing is the first step. So start with your household and make sure everyone is actually doing it – at home, at work and at school. It’s also easy to ignore advice from your doctor or your neighbor to “eat healthy.” But now is no time to ignore the facts! If for no other reason than Ebola is here, seize the opportunity to make some positive changes. 
 
To start, infuse probiotics into your diet, whether through foods or supplements. These healthy bacteria support digestive health, and studies have shown that a healthy tummy could lead to a strong immune system. In fact, about 70% of our immune system lives in our gut, so keeping it in optimal shape with immune-boosting probiotics is a great place to start. As I’ve noted in previous blogs, some good food sources of probiotics include yogurt, miso, tempeh, kimchi, kefir (a fermented dairy product) and sauerkraut. 
 
Nutrient-dense foods can also help ward off diseases and infections. According to a study published this year in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, cruciferous, green leafy foods are the most protective; this includes items like watercress, cabbage, collard greens, kale, arugula, chard, spinach, and chicory. Other nutrient-dense options are carrots, tomatoes, leeks, lemons, limes, and berries. 
 
Garlic is also an immune booster. It may not make you popular at parties, but garlic has been shown to work against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. If you prefer sweet to savory, elderberry is a delicious way to ramp up your body’s defenses: it is packed with vitamins A, B and C, and is purported to have anti-inflammatory properties. Elderberry comes in a syrup, tea, or tincture. 
 
Speaking of vitamins, get your levels checked, particularly for vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to decreased immunity in addition to cancer, heart disease, bone health, and more. If, like nearly 1 billion other people worldwide, your vitamin D levels are low, discuss proper supplementation with your doctor. 
 
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or infection. But sometimes inflammation begets more inflammation and it can become chronic, leading to a range of conditions from heart disease to depression to cancer. Stress also causes inflammation, and research has shown stress can promote the development and progression of disease.
 
Hearing, reading, watching, or talking about Ebola is incredibly stressful. There’s information coming at us from a lot of venues, and managing our reaction to every breaking news account can be difficult. Beyond that, we wonder: how much of what we’re being told is accurate? Managing the various stressors of everyday life is an overwhelming task, but a necessary one. 
 
To help calm your nerves, try exercising. According to The Mayo Clinic, virtually any form of exercise has stress-busting benefits: it increases endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters; increases self-confidence; and lowers symptoms of depression and anxiety. And as a part of any healthy lifestyle, exercise may also keep you from getting sick. 
 
Sure, you should wash your hands. But you should also practice proactive health, not reactive. Ebola is here, and just in time for cold and flu season.  Stay one step ahead of your competition in the battle for your body, and get that immune system in good working order. 
 

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