By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
All of us knows someone who never seems to get sick. While others of us come down with colds or flu, these people seem to walk around with an invisible bubble around them shielding them from the onslaught of germs and viruses that victimize the rest of humanity. What are the secret habits that shield some people from colds and flu? Do these same habits or qualities protect them from sickness in general?
Some years ago, I saw a movie starring Bruce Willis called “Unbreakable”. It was the story of a man who had survived a devastating train accident in which 131 other people had died but in which he had been the sole, seemingly “lucky” survivor. That kind of luck is sort of what is at work with people who never get sick.
Not only do they not get sick from colds or flu but, in the longer highway of life, these people seem to somehow dodge the big “accidents” of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
They emerge unscathed from the wreckage that claims the millions of the rest of us, to continue walking down that highway. As a result, they live longer. And they stay healthier as they live longer.
Here, based on medical studies, are the lifestyle habit that come as close as anything to being an “unbreakable” shield against sickness:
Lower Your Stress Levels
Stress invites bacteria to wounds and delays their healing. In fact, one study from The University of Ohio Dental School demonstrated just how much stress delays wound healing.
The scientists put 2 puncture wounds measuring 3.5-mm wound on the hard upper mouth palate of 11 dental students. Half of the students were wounded just as they began summer vacation. The other half were wounded 3 days before their final exams, when they were under high levels of stress.
What the scientists found was that it took 3 additional days --- 40% longer ---for the wounds to heal in the students who were wounded before exams.
Interleukin 1beta (IL-1beta) messenger RNA (mRNA) is a compound produced by the immune system in response to infection or wounding. For the stressed out students, the levels of interleukin 1beta declined by 68% during the period of their examinations. In effect, high levels of stress disarmed their immune system, leaving it weakened and less able to perform normal healing processes.
Even If You Are Stressed, Be Active
All people experience stress, but scientists have found that the way you cope with stress has a powerful impact on your immune system.
People who are more active in response to stressors have higher levels of healing immune system compounds, according to a 2013 study from University of the Basque Country, San Sebastien, Spain. People who are subjected to stress, and who react passively, still have biological markers of elevated stress 21 days later.
The takeaway from this is that, it is better for your health to yell when someone steps on your foot. It is better to speak up when someone mistreats you. People who react passively, who choke down or suppress their feelings and remain passive, inflict damage on their immune systems and get sick more often.
Eat The Right Kinds of Fruits and Vegetables
Quercetin, technically known as “3,3′,4′,5,7-pentahydroxyflavone”, is a flavonoid found in varying concentrations in many plants including onions, apples, berries, onions and tea.
Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant. Quercetin works by combining with harmful free radical species to form considerably less reactive phenoxy radicals, in effect neutralizing the harmful compounds, according to a 2012 study led by Dr. Shyamala Ganesan of the University of Michigan.
In the test tube, quercetin has demonstrated antiviral properties effective against the herpes simplex virus type 1, poliovirus type 1, parainfluenza virus type 3, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus and the influenza virus, according to a 1987 study from Valencia University in Spain.
A 2008 study from The Cleveland Clinic Foundation confirmed that the flavonoid quercetin and its derivative, methylquercetin, effectively inhibit the replication of various viruses.
Quercetin also helps to keep you healthy by inhibiting the formation of cancerous tumors. Quercetin inhibits the growth of pancreatic cancer, according to a 2013 study from Hirshberg Laboratories for Pancreatic Cancer Research, Department of Surgery, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
The UCLA study also noted that other studies have found that quercetin lowers the risk of colon cancer among non-smokers and former smokers, lowers the risk for esophageal cancer, is associated with a reduced risk for prostate cancer and has been linked with lower rates of lung cancer.
Stepping back from this research, the picture that emerges is that eating fruits and vegetables rich in quercetin not only keeps you from getting sick from relatively harmless conditions such as the common cold but also offers broad, powerful protection against chronic and serious diseases such as cancer.
Which foods are rich in quercetin? One of the foods richest in quercetin are capers, which contain 180 mg/100 mg; red onions, raw, contain 19.93 mg 100 mg; white onions raw contain 5.19 mg; apples with the skin contain 4.42 mg, cocoa powder contains 20.13 mg/100 g. Less common foods rich in quercetin include fresh dill weed (55 mg/100 mg), raw dock leaves (86.2 mg/100 mg) and raw lovage leaves (170 mg/100 mg).
Get Enough Sleep to Avoid Colds
People who don’t get enough sleep, get more colds. People who do not get at least 6 hours of sleep per night are much higher risk for getting colds, a study has found. The study in 2015, led by Dr. Aric Prather of the University of California took 164 people between the ages of 29 and 55 and monitored their sleep patterns by having them wear a wrist monitor (wrist actigraphy) for 7 days. They then were quarantined and intentionally given nasal drops with the rhinovirus, the virus which causes colds.
Here is the startling discovery the scientists made. Those who sleep fewer than 5 hours or less at night are 4.5 times more likely to get a cold. Those who sleep fewer than 6 hours per night are 4.24 higher risk for getting a cold. Those who sleep more than 7 hours did not get a cold. These longer sleepers were not affected at all by the exposure to the rhinovirus.