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Keeping your immune system healthy during COVID and flu season

Simple dietary changes can make a big difference on your overall health, says Dr. Tammy Penhollow.

PORTLAND, Maine — Dr. Tammy Penhollow is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine; specializing in pain management and regenerative medicine. She's spent 20 years learning more about holistic healing, and has five suggestions that will help to strengthen your immune system:

  1. Eat protein. As the building blocks of muscles, proteins also affect the immune system. Diets low in protein compromises the body’s ability to fight infection. Aside from meat/fish/poultry, protein is found in nuts, seeds, lentils, tofu, chia seeds, quinoa, cheese, and eggs.
  1.  Maintain healthy vitamin levels. Avoiding vitamin deficiency can help strengthen the immune system, particularly those associated with protection from free radicals. The immune system needs adequate levels of vitamins A, B complex, C, D, and E in particular. However, please check with your physician before supplementing the fat soluble Vitamins D, E, and A, as they can be harmful in excess. Most individuals can get enough of the vitamins in a well-rounded healthy diet, but those with a deficiency may require supervised high dose supplementation. 
  1.  Eat snacks. Surprisingly, snacking between meals can help level out appetite and blood sugar, and can help keep that “slow burn” by stoking the metabolism which may lead to weight loss. The RIGHT KIND of snack is important, however. Sugary carbs and junk food contribute to metabolic problems such as diabetes and heart disease, while healthy snacks like nuts, yogurt, fruit, and vegetables contribute to health and immunity. Protein snacks can check the block for #1 and #2 above.
  1.  Eat breakfast. Intermittent fasting is a popular dietary trend, but skipping breakfast may play a role in decreased immune function. Spikes in cortisol levels can occur in those who skip breakfast and this can weaken the immune system.
  1.  Modulate alcohol intake. Stress drinking can contribute to stress. What? Drinking alcohol increases “feel good” neuro-hormones but also raises the major stress hormones and cortisol.  Alcohol changes the ability of the immune cells and other special cells to clear or combat an infection in the upper and lower airways. Moderation is the key.

"Much of the pandemic life is feeling out of our control," says Dr. Penhollow. "The above are 5 things well within the control of each person and that, in and of itself, can improve the immune system. By taking control of things that are within our power, we can strengthen our body’s response to this 'new normal' life."

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