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Vitamin D, rest and sex best for immunity

January 28, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
We've all heard that the best way to keep your immune system revved up is to sleep well, exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet. But now researchers say a few more unexpected habits can be just as important.

We know listening to relaxing tunes can help you de-stress, but a Wilkes University study finds listening to soothing music can boosts the immune system's production of an illness-fighting protein.

"The whole concept of improving immune function is really anything that will make you happy," said Dr. Lorraine Smith, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Smith says Immunoglobulin A acts as an antibody. It binds to bad germs that enter the body through the nose.

"The IGA antibody is really the antibody that's produced within the lining of the nose, the sinuses and really into your GI tract. The antibody is large, then your immunity is really high against viruses and flus," said Smith.

Numerous studies have looked at vitamin C's effect on fighting a cold, but until now the results have been mixed. A recent internal medicine study found people with low vitamin D levels were 40 percent more likely to report respiratory infections.

"We don't know exactly how it bolsters the immune system, but you should take 2,000 units. That's the recommendation," said Smith.

Researchers also found that regular weekly sex is more than a stress-buster; it releases hormones that help fight colds and flu.

But researchers were puzzled by the fact that having sex three or more times a week did not have the same positive effect.

"I think organizing or trying to arrange three or four visits, conjugal visits, a week is somewhat of a stressful event," said Smith.

Along with sex, University of Miami scientists also found regular massage treatments appear to increase the activity and the number of the body's natural killer cells known to fight pathogens.

"You should stop, take a minute and just do some regular, natural things: meditation, massages, going to the spa. If you can't afford it, just going out into nature, going to the park, watching the flowers, listening to the birds. It doesn't have to be expensive," said Smith.

Of course, Smith adds all of these suggestions need to be combined with good hygiene habits such as frequent hand-washing, sneezing into your elbow and getting a flu shot.