Teaching, working with large groups of people, partial dehydration, and erratic eating schedules can all cause a comprised immune system. A weakened immune system leaves the body vulnerable to virtually every type of illness and disease, especially during seasonal shifts when new generations of viruses cause coughs and colds. Although the immune system can recognize viral strains it has encountered and beaten off before, it will not recognize a virus that has mutated. Even the smallest genetic change will trick it into thinking a brand-new species has landed for which it has no antibodies. While a robust immune system will cope with this attack, one that has been weakened by poor nutrition and too much stress will struggle to get you back to good health.

Fatigue, lethargy, repeated infections, slow wound healing, allergies, thrush, colds, and flu are all signs that the body's immune system is functioning below par. A healthy adult, for example, should suffer no more than two colds a year - so if you do succumb more to every passing infection, you need to start supporting your immune system.

c

Here are some practical tips to help you stay healthy this year.

Stay Hydrated & Eat at Regular Intervals: I always have an energy bar of some sort with me. Hitting the grocery store for carrots, organic apples, tuna in a bag, and turkey should always be a priority. Staying away from airplane food is also a big help. I find that I feel sick and have a headache after I eat airplane food. I always bring some apples, turkey, and vegetables packed in small plastic bags for the flight.

Emergen-C: I start my day with two packages mixed with 6 oz. of water. A great source of vitamin C and easily absorbed in liquid form. Try some of the new flavors like Tropical and Lemon/Lime. Great for kids too.

ProBiotics: Crucial for maintaining good intestinal health. When the digestive system is working properly, germs have less of a chance to grab hold. Garden of Life makes high-quality formulas. I take 4 of their Primal Defense tablets daily with my Emergen-C on an empty stomach.

Echinacea: Almost everyone has now heard of the best-selling herbal remedy, which is prescribed in Germany by doctors and pharmacists to help fight colds and flu. It is effective, as long as you don't overuse it.

Goldenseal: The Aborigine healers in Australia first discovered goldenseal. It will not only help prevent an infection if you are feeling low, and it can reduce the inflammation of mucous membranes once you have a cough or cold.

Plain old Vitamin C: Many of the symptoms of a cold have nothing to do with the cold virus itself but are caused by the body's immune response to that alien invader. It is this second problem that vitamin C, which has a widespread reputation as an immune system booster. can help counter. Don't underestimate the importance of good food sources of this vitamin. Endurance athletes can consume over three servings of fresh fruit daily and up to two cups of cooked vegetables daily for ample amounts of dietary vitamin C. Most research measuring the effects of high doses of vitamin C through supplementation has not shown additional protection to the immune system. However, many athletes swear by their vitamin C supplements. What we do know is that a daily dose of 250 mg is adequate to saturate your body with vitamin C. Excellent sources of vitamin C include sweet peppers, citrus fruits, and juices, strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwi fruit, and broccoli.

Vitamin E: This antioxidant and nutrient helps to slow down the symptoms of aging and strengthen body cells that fight infection. People who eat foods rich in vitamin E or take supplements have an added weapon against bacteria and viruses. Vitamin E also helps in the fight against heart disease and cancer. Good food sources are whole-grain foods and vegetable oils. Supplements are recommended to reach the daily requirement of this vitamin. Check with your doctor on the dose.

What happens during a cold are the mucous membranes that line the nose become charged with the white blood cells that release large amounts of chemicals designed to destroy the virus. Unfortunately, these substances also attack the cells of the mucous membranes themselves, causing a runny nose and other disturbances. So, the idea behind giving antioxidants such as vitamins C, A, and E to tackle a cold is two-fold. Not only do these nutrients support the immune system, but, just as importantly, they weaken the immune attack on the body's tissues.

Zinc, Iron, B Vitamins: Other nutrients essential for a healthy immune system include adequate intakes of zinc, iron, and vitamins B6 and B12. A good daily multivitamin and mineral supplement providing 100-percent of the Daily Values ensure the proper intake of these nutrients on top of a well-balanced diet. Mega dosing with vitamins and minerals can often compromise the immune system, especially with excessive intakes of iron, which could impair immune function, increase susceptibility to infection and inflammation in the body. While iron is an essential mineral, regular monitoring of iron status is required when taking iron supplements. Research on zinc supplementation and the common cold is split down the middle regarding effectiveness. While there is limited evidence that zinc supplementation can reduce the severity or duration of a cold, it appears that zinc must be taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms to provide any benefit.

Nutrition: Poor nutrition is a common cause of a weakened immune response. Consuming a high intake of fruits and vegetables should pay off immune wise. They contain hundreds of phytochemicals that provide many preventative health benefits and are also excellent sources of carotenoids that boost the activity of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Beta-carotene can also be converted to vitamin A in your body, an important nutrient for the immune system. Organic fruits and vegetables are always a wise choice.

Foods that are excellent natural sources of the immune-boosting antioxidants include:

Kiwi fruit, which contains more vitamin C than oranges;

Chinese cabbage, which is an excellent source of vitamin A;

Avocado, known as nature's super-food because it provides the optimum healthy ratio of fat, carbohydrate, protein, and vitamin E.

Foods that are rich in vitamin B6, which boost the production of antibodies to fight infection, will also help. These include bananas, carrots, lentils, tuna, salmon, whole grain flour, and sunflower seeds. It would help if you also stepped up your intake of dietary zinc by eating more seafood, eggs, turkey, pumpkin seeds, and crabmeat.

Dieting? Rapid weight loss of greater than 2 pounds per week (an amount often recommended by many diet programs) can have adverse immune effects. Consuming adequate calories is, of course, also beneficial for an athlete's recovery and energy levels. Poorly planned and low-calorie diets can also be low in protein, which also compromises your immune system. Diets too low in energy can also result in an inadequate intake of immune-boosting vitamins and minerals. Having the proper balance of fat in your diet and choosing good fats can also give your immune system a boost. While a very high-fat diet can compromise immune function, a very low-fat diet does not provide adequate amounts of essential fatty acids. Polyunsaturated oils that provide omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are good for the immune system. However, most North Americans consume enough of the omega-6 fats (if not an excess) and need to increase the intake of the omega-3's. Walnuts, fatty fish, and flax, soy, and canola oils are good sources of this healthy fat.

Nutritional Strategies for Training and Working Out:

Periods of heavy training are also associated with depressed immune function due, in part, to elevated concentrations of stress hormones. Endurance athletes who train in the carbohydrate depleted state experience even higher increases in these stress hormones. The body's susceptibility to a respiratory infection can be elevated for 24 hours after a tough workout, and a demanding race can impair your immune function for one to two weeks. Combining training with work can overtax an endurance athlete's resources, stress your body, and compromise your ability to fight infection. Compromised immune function can be further aggravated by inadequate nutrition.

Because increased oxygen utilization during exercise can increase the production of free radicals (unstable molecules that can cause tissue damage at the cellular level), increased food intake and supplementation with antioxidants may enhance immune-system performance.

Follow a healthy diet and supplement wisely. Consuming carbohydrates before, during, and after training - a common practice for endurance athletes - results in lower cortisol levels, fewer changes in blood immune cell counts, more moderate oxidative activity, and a diminished inflammatory response. Consuming carbohydrates seems to diminish some of the immunosuppressive effects of intense training.

Therefore, training with optimal stores of carbohydrates not only provides fuel for your workouts but supports a robust immune system. Additional strategies to boost the immune system around training sessions should focus on yoga to reduce the stress hormone response.

Remember, there is a window of at least several hours of depressed immune function after intense exercise. Try to stay away from individuals who have colds after hard training or after a yoga class when you are an open system.

In conclusion, managing life stress, eating clean and healthy foods, doing yoga, resting, and sleeping and meditation go a long way to support a healthy immune system.