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Dr. Perricone Discusses

7 Ways to Boost Your Immunity


With winter approaching, now is the time to make sure that your immune system is functioning at an optimal level. A little known fact: the immune system is actually an extension of the brain, and is intrinsically linked to our psyches and endocrine system. New research shows that the immune system also contributes to the brain's ability to maintain cognitive ability and cell renewal throughout life.

The Brain-Beauty Connection

When we are in an embryonic state, the layer of cells that eventually develop into skin are also responsible for making brain cells. This Brain-Beauty Connection means that what is therapeutic for the brain is also therapeutic for the skin and the immune system (since the immune system is an extension of the brain). And it doesn't stop there. Each of the highly targeted foods and nutrients that I recommend for the skin will also strengthen the immune system, protect the cardiovascular system, build muscle, strengthen bone, decrease body fat, enhance athletic performance, improve libido and restore that all important joie de vivre; that sense of well-being, happiness and optimism so necessary for living life to its fullest.

Conversely, what is harmful to the skin is also detrimental to the brain and the immune system.

Immune System Suppressors

1. Pro-Inflammatory Foods (sugar and starches)
Foods can be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Avoid pro-inflammatory foods—these will promote wrinkles, a host of diseases, accelerate aging and cause the body to store fat. These foods can also exacerbate acne, which is a systemic inflammatory disease.

When it comes to the immune system remember this key fact: sugar decreases activity of white blood cells, which interferes with our body's ability to fight infection. The same dysfunction of the white blood cells can also make allergies worse. I am not exaggerating when I say that sugar can rob you of your youth, health and beauty.

TIP: Make liberal use of spices and herbs. Cinnamon, for example, is a powerful antimicrobial, which means it can fight infections in the body and help the immune system stave off infectious disease.

2. Excessive Exposure to the Sun
Although we have all heard it a million times, excessive sun exposure will accelerate skin aging and cause skin cancer. But that is not the only problem. Excess exposure to the sun weakens the immune system.

We need to get some sun in order to absorb Vitamin D and keep our bones strong and healthy, but moderation is key.

TIP: Limit sun exposure during peak times (between 11am and 2pm) and wear a broad spectrum, non-chemical SPF.

3. Stress
Of all the destructive, pro-inflammatory and pro-aging forces I have observed as a physician, nothing compares with the negative effects of stress. Stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol. When we have large amounts of cortisol circulating in our blood streams for extended periods of time, it is extremely toxic. Our brain cells, or neurons, are extremely sensitive to the effects of cortisol. Excess cortisol can destroy your immune system, shrink vital organs, decrease muscle mass and cause thinning of the skin, accelerating skin aging and wrinkling and making blood vessels under skin more prominent.

TIP: In my opinion, the stress relieving benefits of yoga are unparalleled. A twenty minute yoga session will leave you completely relaxed, physically invigorated and you'll enjoy a strong sense of well being.

4. Smoking Cigarettes
Cigarette smoke is highly damaging and aging to skin. When we inhale tobacco smoke, over a trillion free radicals are produced in our lungs, the result is activation of white blood cells which line our arteries, causing an inflammatory response, predisposing us to heart disease. In addition, there is a tremendous inflammatory response in all organs of the body. Tobacco also acts as a vasoconstrictor, which means that it causes constriction of blood vessels. This reduces local blood flow to an area, and temporarily raises blood pressure. Smoking has many negative effects on the immune system, increasing our risk of infection, including colds and flu, and a host of diseases affecting the lungs and respiratory system, such as deadly cancers.

TIP: To help repair damage from constricted blood vessels, take a supplement with alpha lipoic acid (ALA). ALA is known for it's capacity to regulate production of nitric oxide, which controls blood flow to the skin.

5. Excess Alcohol
The metabolites of alcohol are molecules known as aldehydes. Aldehydes are destructive in that they cause damage to the cell plasma membrane, as well as other parts of the interior of the cell. Alcohol suppresses the immune system making us more susceptible to a host of diseases.

TIP: To combat damage to the liver, mix 1/4 teaspoon turmeric with a little water. Curcumin, the active constituent in turmeric, helps to stop the changes caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

6. Lack of sleep
When we look at the hormone parameters during sleep, we find that sleep turns down the negative effects of cortisol and the "bad" neurotransmitters, like epinephrine and norepinephrine that can be elevated during stress. Growth hormone is released during sleep—and growth hormone is the youth hormone. The hormone melatonin is also released, which has a positive effect on the immune system and the skin. It is during sleep that we rebuild energy reserves and regenerate the body as our cells undergo a process of repair. Sleep deprivation can result in a decrease in white blood cell count, causing a significant change in the immune system; loss of sleep impairs immune function.

TIP: If you have trouble going to sleep, try exercising briskly for at least 30 minutes during the day. People who exercise consistently typically report more consistent sleeping patterns.

7. Going Fat Free
We need good fats, such as those found in salmon, sardines and other cold water fish, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado and açai (a Brazilian berry whose fatty acid ratio resembles that of olive oil). These "good" fats will help us absorb nutrients from our vegetables and fruits, keep our cells supple, our skin glowing and wrinkle-free, our brains sharp and our mood upbeat. We also need dietary fat to burn body fat.

It has been shown that a lack of essential fatty acids and the proper fats leads to dull and wrinkled skin, lowered brain function, and depressed mood.

TIP: Enjoy omega-3 rich foods such as cold water fish and grass-fed beef help to support a healthy immune response.

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