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Healthy immune systems help prevent illnesses

By Kaitlyn Byrne
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE – Each year, cold and flu season threatens to steal holiday happiness, but a healthy immune system can prevent sickness from ruining the most wonderful time of the year.

Brent Fountain, registered dietician and associate Extension professor in Mississippi State University’s Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, said a healthy diet can strengthen the immune system.

“Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that are helpful in fighting free-radicals that can damage your body’s cells,” Fountain said. “A multi-vitamin may help, but it is best to get the vitamins and minerals straight from your food.”

Fountain said antioxidants include beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. These antioxidants can be found in common foods, such as carrots, cantaloupes, beets, broccoli, oranges, apples and sweet potatoes.

Certain protein sources, such as red meat, poultry, tuna, beans and nuts, contain zinc and selenium, which Fountain said also help strengthen the immune system.

Fountain said that exercise is a healthy activity, but it also puts stress on the body.

“If you feel like you may be getting sick, it is best to avoid exercise because of the additional demands it places on your body,” he said. “Problems such as dehydration can occur and make an illness worse.”

He said practicing good hygiene when sharing gym equipment is especially important in the winter months.

A common way to prevent sickness is through a flu vaccination, which Fountain said can be beneficial but is not a guarantee against illness.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ability of the flu vaccine to protect a person depends on the age and health of the person vaccinated and the similarity of the virus strains for that year and the vaccine,” he said. “If the virus and the vaccine are closely matched, the vaccine effectiveness will be higher. It is also important to note that even if the virus and vaccine are not closely matched, the presence of the antibodies may provide some protection from the virus.”

Fountain said each person should check with a doctor before getting the shot for the first time.

Deree Webb, director of nurses at MSU’s Longest Student Health Center, said personal hygiene is vital during flu and cold season.

“During this time of year, it’s important to stay aware of personal space,” she said. “Try not to breathe too closely to others, especially if they’re noticeably sick. It’s never a good idea to eat or drink after other people, but it is even more important to avoid doing that during flu season.”

Webb suggested washing hands frequently and using antibacterial gel when hand-washing is not an option. She also said touching the eyes, nose and mouth should be avoided.

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Released: November 8, 2012
Contact: Dr. Brent Fountain, (662) 325-0849; Deree Webb, (662) 325-9320