The Flu and You Part 3: Building Your Immune System To Naturally Fight Flu

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Knoxville (WVLT) -- We're covering East Tennessee health and continuing our coverage with ways to protect you and your family from the flu this season.

The most effective way for most people to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot.

While research has pr oven it works better than anything else, many people seek a more natural approach to prevent flu and medical experts say there are some things you can do to avoid getting sick.

Take a walk down the supplement aisle of any grocery or health food store and you'd think a cure for the flu came in the form of a little magic pill.

Unfortunately, according to UT Medical’s Leah Kittle, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, most supplements are long on promises but short on proof.

"We are learning everyday of new components that are in foods that help us stay healthy,” Kittle said. “Until we learn all of them, we're not going to be able to take them out and separate them and put them into a pill."

Kittle says ideally, your daily intake of vitamins and minerals shouldn't come in the form of a pill, but from the food pyramid.

Five serving of fruits and vegetables should be your primary source for flu prevention.

And if swimsuit season wasn't enough to motivate you to exercise, maybe flu season will be.

"There is a lot of good evidence that exercise supports a healthy immune system,” she said, “and from what I've read is 30 to 45 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity a day."

Research suggests aerobic exercise speeds up the heart to pump larger quantities of blood, making you breathe faster to help transfer oxygen from your lungs to your blood, in turn, making you sweat once your body heats up.

That process helps increase the number of your body's natural virus-killing cells.

The brain chemicals that are released during exercise are the same ones that are produced during sleep.

Pulmonary specialist, Dr. Thomas Sullivan says to help give your immune system an extra boost during flu season, get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

"I think the more even and the more close to a regular sleeping pattern you have, the better off you would be in that situation,” Dr. Sullivan said.

Sleep specialists say while research hasn't determined exactly how sleep impacts your immune system, they do know a lack of it prevents the body from repairing cells, allowing you to get sick more easily.

Eating healthy, exercising regularly and sleeping adequately should be a year-round effort, but it's especially important during flu season, because the strength of our immune system is what makes the difference between who gets sick and who doesn't.

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