Women may have stronger immune systems than men do, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but we still get hit with an average of three colds a year. Defy those odds by building up your natural defenses.
Pop a Probiotic
The buzz around gut-friendly probiotics just got a little louder. Not only do some of the microorganisms combat gastrointestinal woes, but they can also influence your body's T cells, the crucial white blood cells that help power your immune system. According to recent research published in the journal Postgraduate Medicine, women who downed daily probiotics saw their T-cell count skyrocket, making them much less vulnerable to infections. Though you can score some of the healthful stuff in a variety of foods like yogurt, miso, and tempeh, you're better off taking a 60- to 90-milligram supplement every morning during cold season, says lead study researcher Mira Baron, M.D., an internist in Cleveland.
Raise Your D Levels
Supernutrient vitamin D strengthens bones, fights inflammation, and boosts your mood. Turns out, it can also help slay infections. In a national study, people with low D levels were 36 percent more likely to catch respiratory ailments. Other current research shows that, when people with ample D do get sick, they may recover faster. "Vitamin D helps your body produce a protein called cathelicidin that fights bacteria and viruses," says Carlos Camargo, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Because it's nearly impossible to get enough D from foodÃ¢â‚¬”even if you regularly nosh on salmon and dairy productsÃ¢â‚¬”it's best to invest in 1,000 IU supplements. Take two a day in the winter months, when the sun's rays aren't as strong. (Soaking up natural sunlight prompts the body to make its own vitamin D. However, experts caution against too much D-producing sun exposure because it can lead to a heightened risk of skin cancer.)
Regular 20-minute, moderate-pressure rubdowns decrease the body's level of cortisol, a stress hormone that can take a toll on your immune system, says Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "Massage stimulates your nervous system to slow the production of cortisol," she explains. "And by lowering cortisol, you're increasing your immune response." No time to squeeze in a spa appointment? Lie faceup on the floor with a foam roller positioned perpendicularly under your back and slowly roll over it in an up-and-down motion.
Cut Some Calories
Even slightly overweight people who slashed their caloric intake by just 10 percent ended up with heartier T cells, according to the Journal of Gerontology, possibly because a little extra weight can prompt the body to release a certain immune-suppressing hormone-like compound. Stash a pack of sugar-free gum in your bag and reach for a stick when you crave a midafternoon snack, says Sharon Zarabi, R.D., a nutritionist in New York City. Or swap your regular latte for plain green tea; you'll not only save hundreds of calories but also ward off infection. (The brew is brimming with antioxidants called catechins, which may have serious immune-aiding abilities.) Or, when you're lagging, take a 10-minute walkÃ¢â‚¬”even if it's just around the houseÃ¢â‚¬”instead of reaching for a sugary pick-me-up.
Clock in Face Time
Surprise: All of your friends come with benefits. People with the most types of relationshipsÃ¢â‚¬”everything from close friends to neighborsÃ¢â‚¬”have a greater resistance to infectious diseases, according to Health Psychology. Conversely, that same research shows that loners' immune systems suffer. "Lonely people often have high stress levels, which can have a negative effect on the immune system," says Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University. The exact number of friends you need to help you stay cold-free is unclear, but don't let that stop you: Set a goal of making one new connection a month, whether it's at the office, the gym, or the coffee shop.