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Aging and the Immune System

By Howard Murad, MD
Posted: April 14, 2008, from the December 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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     Garlic. A member of the onion family, garlic is a powerful immune booster that stimulates infection-fighting white cells and increases natural killer cell activity. It contains sulfur compounds, such as allicin and sulfides, which provide immune-enhancing properties. Garlic is also an antioxidant that helps to reduce free radical buildup. Some cultures that have a garlic-rich diet experience lower incidences of intestinal cancer. Garlic may be eaten raw or cooked, or taken in supplement form at levels of 100 milligrams per day.

     Mushrooms. An important food source and potent medicinal for many cultures throughout the world, there are approximately 10,000 mushroom species, 200 of which have been identified to have curative properties. Some of the most well-known and researched include reishi, shiitake and maitake, which have immune-enhancing, infection-fighting properties. A diet that includes a variety of mushrooms is helpful for overall immunity.

     Omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fatty acids help to increase the activity of phagocytes—the white blood cells that consume bacteria. Omega-3 fatty acids provide a number of benefits for overall cell health and are vital for preserving healthy cell membranes. By ensuring an intact membrane, water stays inside the cell, maximizing its ability to function at its highest level. To ensure ample amounts of these fatty acids, eat a diet rich in coldwater fish, such as mackerel, tuna and salmon, as well as avocados, olive oil, flaxseeds and walnuts.

     Quercetin. This bioflavonoid is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Quercetin helps to inhibit the manufacture and release of histamine, and is often referred to as an anti-allergy nutrient. Eating a diet rich in apples, onions, red grapes, citrus fruits, cherries, raspberries, cranberries and broccoli helps to provide quercetin. A dietary supplement of 1 gram per day also supports daily nutrition.

     Selenium. This mineral helps increase natural killer cells. The best sources of selenium in food are tuna, red snapper, whole grains, egg yolks, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts and brown rice. It is also found in many vegetables, however the quantity varies based upon the amount of selenium in the soil. It may also be ingested via supplement form at 70 micrograms  per day.

     Zinc. This valuable mineral helps increase the production of white blood cells in order to fight infection. Zinc may be obtained via lozenges, dietary supplements and food. The goal is to aim for 15–25 milligram per day. Foods rich in this mineral include beans, nuts, whole grains, oysters, beef and dark turkey meat. Also, many whole grain cereals are fortified with zinc.