Flu vaccine more effective with exercise, study finds

While the influenza epidemic seems to be dissipating in several parts of the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that it could make a comeback within the next few weeks. The CDC reports that you are 62 percent less likely to catch the flu if you’ve received a vaccination, but a new study from Iowa State University shows that you could reap even greater benefits if you exercise afterwards.

During the study, researchers separated healthy young adults into two groups, one that exercised for 90 minutes after receiving their flu shots and one that sat quietly for the same period. After checking the blood levels of flu antibodies in these groups, scientists found that those who had exercised directly following the shot had nearly double the immune response of those who didn’t. They also had higher white blood cell counts, an indicator of immune health, according to CBS.

Medical professionals believe that by stimulating blood circulation and activating the immune system, exercise can help vaccinestake effect throughout the body more quickly. It should be noted that while researchers tested participants within two hours of their flu shots, further studies may be required to see whether exercise the following day, or later that night, could have a similar effect.

Epidemic dissipating?
Jon Abramson, M.D., told ABC News that flu season usually peaks in February or March, but not December or January. Abramson specializes in pediatric infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina, and added that the season started early because of a particularly virulent influenza strain that was last seen about 10 years ago. At that time, the flu season began and ended early, so Abramson believes the same may be true this year.

“It may be decreasing in some areas, but that’s hard to predict,” CDC director Tomas Frieden, M.D., told the news source. “Trends only in the next week or two will show whether we have in fact crossed the peak.”

Despite the early start to the flu season, the CDC believes that there are no worrisome flu patterns among young children. In addition to having a fairly low number of fatalities compared with this same time stage of flu distribution in the 2002 – 2003 season, the CDC says that there is no shortage of treatments. Vaccine manufacturers have now created 145 million vaccines, 128 million of which had already been distributed by January 14, according to the Center for Infection Disease Research and Policy.

Read more

How to avoid flu season

Forty-seven states have reported widespread flu cases to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS). The Federal agency is warning Americans to up their regular sanitation measures by taking more showers, washing their hands regularly and avoiding excess physical contact. In addition to thebasic flu shot, which is now available at pharmacies throughout the country at relatively low costs, there are several other ways that you can improve your immune health and reduce your risk of contracting the flu this season.

Early arrival
Typically peaking in January or February, the seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness causes by the flu virus. Flu season can occur as early as October or as late as May, but the HSS reports that this season, the flu has arrived about a month sooner than usual.

Each year, approximately 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts a variation of the flu virus, which spreads through physical as well as indirect contact, and is capable of surviving in the air and on surfaces. More than 200,000 of these cases result in hospitalization each year, with the illness lasting between one and two weeks for most.

How it spreads
You’re not likely to get the same flu strain more than once, although it is possible to get different variations of the flu within the same season. Exposure to a particular strain, on the other hand, can also help to prevent similarversionsin the future.

The flu is a respiratory disease. While it is typically thought of as a stomach or intestinal condition, the HSS writes that such effects are more common in childhood cases, which are also usually more severe. This has led many people to believe that the flu will necessarily result in vomiting or diarrhea. However, the most common symptoms of the seasonal flu are coughing, sore throat, nasal drip and dehydration.

Using a Tissue: 101
If you have the flu or think you may be coming down, the best way to prevent others from joining you is to use a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Doing so into your hand is perhaps the easiest way to spread the virus, and using a tissue offers a convenient way to dispose of your germs. If no tissue is available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using your upper sleeve or elbow. After coughing or sneezing, always wash your hands with soap and warm water, scrubbing for approximately 20 seconds before drying.Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also effective at sanitizing your hands after a coughing fit.

The CDC recommends further that you don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth, because this could make cross-contamination easier.

If you’re too sick to get out of bed, it’s probably a good sign that you shouldn’t. Some people may show up to work no matter how sick they feel. But this can cause far more trouble than its worth, leading to entire offices running at half-occupancy during a peak flu week. Take care to respect your co-workers as well as yourself.

Get a flu shot
If you haven’t come down with the flu, getting your shot could save you a lot of hassle. According to the CDC, this year’s flu vaccine is well-suited to the most widely circulating strain and is 62 percent effective at preventing the illness. Health officials are urging those who haven’t become infected to get the vaccine immediately. It is recommended for all persons older than 6 months. A flu shot may be particularly important for those who are traveling during the next two months.

Read more

Researchers explain vitamin D’s vital role in immune health

Numerous investigations have shown that vitamin D plays an important role in supporting immune health, but less was known about its specific functions and how it benefits the body's defenses. Now, a study may help explain exactly how the nutrient supports immune health.

A team of researchers from Cantabria University in Spain took blood samples from a group of participants and analyzed vitamin D levels, as well as immune function. The results showed that participants who had lower levels of the nutrient had decreased activation of a receptor on immune cells that activates other cells that hunt down and kill viruses.

The researchers said the findings may help explain why people's immune health tends to be compromised during the winter months. During these periods, individuals are less likely to expose their skin to the sun's rays, which are the most prominent source of vitamin D for most people. Even if they do get out in the sun, its rays are weaker and less effective. This may have major consequences for immune health.

For this reason, the researchers recommended vitamin D supplements for individuals who are concerned about their immune health. These products may provide a valuable lift in nutrient levels at a time of year when it is most needed. Furthermore, the findings showed that older individuals tend to have the lowest vitamin D levels, so supplements are likely most useful among this group.

"Vitamin D supplements should be considered one of many tools that might help when conventional therapies are not enough," said researcher Victor Manuel Martinez-Taboada.

An editorial that accompanied the study pointed out that vitamin D supplements are generally safe and inexpensive, so there is little reason why people who are looking to support immune health should not consider using them.

Read more

More people may want to consider vitamin D testing

Sometimes, people go through stages where they may not feel quite like they normally do. The cause of these issues can be extremely difficult for doctors to identify, as they may be symptoms of many larger problems. However, experts say the solution may be much simpler than most people think.

Dr. Michele Couri recently told the Peoria Star Journal that these types of problems could be related to low vitamin D levels. The nutrient is connected to a number of different areas of health and having insufficient levels may lead to numerous, yet somewhat indistinct symptoms.

"It has so many functions in the body," Couri told the news source. "It helps with calcium absorption, bone mineralization. It helps the pancreas process insulin. It helps our immune systems."

She said that she wouldn't go so far as to call vitamin D a preventive treatment for any diagnosable illness. However, she did say it plays an important role in promoting optimal health. This means that if a person starts to feel as though something is not quite right, it may be reasonable to think about their vitamin D levels.

It is very easy for a person to have their levels tested. Most primary care doctors offer to screen individuals. This may help a person know if they should start taking nutritional supplements to boost their levels. Supplementation is typically easy and effective. Within a few short weeks, individuals may have normal levels again.

The Vitamin D Council states that testing is the best way for individuals to learn about a possible deficiency, which may enable them to take steps to correct the problem.

Read more

Some high-risk individuals unaware of vitamin D deficiency dangers

Many individuals who face the highest risk of experiencing vitamin D deficiency may benefit from more education on the matter, as a new study indicates that many in these groups may not do enough to protect themselves.

Individuals of dark-skinned ethnic groups are much more likely to experience vitamin D deficiencies because their skin lacks the capacity to produce adequate levels from sun exposure. Furthermore, some people cover most of their skin for cultural reasons. This puts them at a higher risk of deficiency.

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 200 individuals from these groups about the steps they take to reduce their risk of deficiency. The results showed that 34 percent had not exposed any of their skin other than their face to sunlight for a year or more. Another 11 percent did not make special efforts to increase vitamin D consumption through diet.

In particular, the researchers found that knowledge of vitamin D deficiency risk factors was lower among older participants. The team recommended the development of an educational program to warn high-risk individuals about the dangers of vitamin D deficiency and what they can do to avoid it.

Read more

Proper nutrition can help support immune health

With cold and flu season upon much of the northern U.S. states, many people may be wondering how to support their immune health. The obvious answer is vitamin C, but there are other nutrients that may be just as important to the function of one's immune system.

For example, the Office of Dietary Supplements reports that zinc plays a critical role in propping up immune health. Deficiencies of this nutrient can lead to potentially serious consequences that make it difficult for individuals to fight off germs.

Without zinc the body cannot produce new immune cells. While this does not necessarily mean that a person will get sick, it does mean that their immune system may have a harder time fighting off infections.

The Office states that alcoholics and vegetarians may be at the highest risk of experiencing a zinc deficiency and that these individuals may benefit from taking nutritional supplements. However, they are likely not the only ones who would benefit from boosting their zinc intake during this time of year.

Just about everyone could stand to experience the immune health support that may come from higher zinc levels.

Read more

New study uncovers immune health benefits of eating vegetables

Moms have been telling their children to eat their vegetables for generations, yet new evidence continues to emerge about the important role these foods play in the body's immune health.

For example, a recent study showed that mice that eat few green leafy vegetables have fewer cells that line the inner organs of the body and serve as the first line of defense against infection. The study revealed that vegetables contain a chemical that signals these protective immune cells to function properly.

"It is still surprising to me," said Marc Veldhoen, who led the investigation. "After feeding otherwise healthy mice a vegetable-poor diet for two to three weeks, I was amazed to see 70 to 80 percent of these protective cells disappeared."

Numerous studies in the past have shown that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is one the most important keys to maintaining strong immune health. These foods contain a number of important vitamins and minerals that fuel the body's protective ability and keep things function at peak levels.  

Read more

Office workers may need to find alternative ways to get vitamin D

The summer sun is finally out, providing millions of people, particularly those furthest away from the equator, with their best opportunity of the year to boost their levels of vitamin D naturally.

However, many people are stuck in dreary offices all day with nothing to look at but gray walls. While they may want to spend more time outside basking in the glow of the glorious sun, their job prevents them doing this. While they may have time to get outside after work, the sun is generally not strong enough later in the day to provide much of a vitamin D boost.

But just because workers have resigned themselves to this gray fate does not mean that they can't still support healthy vitamin D levels. If a person has the option to go outside for during their lunch they should take advantage of this. Experts say that even just a few minutes in the sun is enough to stimulate the production of the nutrient.

For those who are unable to break away from their desk during the workday, nutritional supplements might be the next best option. These products can provide a full day's supply of the important nutrient, even when a person is stuck at their desk.

Read more

Vitamin D may be key to healthy immune function

Higher levels of vitamin D may support joint health and skin health, as a new study found that individuals with autoimmune disorders affecting these body systems are more likely to have vitamin D deficiency.

The nutrient has previously been implicated in immune health. Medical professionals have long recognized that vitamin D plays an important role in supporting this system. However, few studies have ever connected it with autoimmune disorders.

For the study, researchers tested the vitamin D levels of 302 individuals from Canada who were being treated for autoimmune conditions affecting skin and joint health. The results showed a much higher prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in these patients than in the general population.

"Vitamin D deficiency is a widespread concern," said Dafna Gladman, the University of Toronto researcher who led the study. He added that patients suffering from autoimmune joint and skin conditions may benefit from getting higher levels of the nutrient in their diets.

Vitamin D can be found in oily fish like salmon or tuna as well as in nutritional supplements.

Read more

EGCG in green tea supports immune system response, research shows

Scientists at Ohio State University recently studied the immune health benefits of EGCG in green tea. EGCG is a polyphenol that is believed to be the main source of health benefits in green tea leaves.

The researchers measured the levels of regulatory T cells in the livers and spleens of laboratory mice, and they found that the numbers were higher after they gave the animals doses of EGCG. The increase in the amount and frequency of the cells led to an improvement in the immune health of the animals.

EGCG may stimulate the production of T cells by influencing the cellular activity in the body. Boosting T cell levels can improve immune health and defend against autoimmune diseases. These regulatory cells protect the body by defending it from dangerous cells that would otherwise disrupt or weaken the immune system.

Pharmaceutical alternatives that effectively have the same benefits are available, but these doses may have toxicity levels that do not exist in green tea. While synthetic substitutes may be more powerful, green tea can be a better long-term option because it raises fewer concerns about toxic side effects.

Read more