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Cheap and Easy

Published: December 23, 2010

Everyone has their own immune boosting rituals and homebrew remedies that are liberally applied and talked about during this time of the year. With that in mind I’ve decided to give my two cents on this topic.

Orange juice and other antioxidant containing foods have been controversially thought to boost the immune system, although clinical evidence to support this idea is circumstantial. People with vitamin C (an antioxidant) deficiencies have been shown to have weakened immune responses, but overindulging in vitamin C has only been proven to result in kidney stones. Still, with our modern American diets rich in the KFC and light beer food groups, vitamin C supplementation in the form of fresh fruits might be a good idea during cold and flu season.

Some people swear by chicken soup during these chilly months. Chicken soup, like vitamin C is a folk remedy that has little scientific evidence to back it up. A study in 2000 showed that chicken soup had some effect on inhibiting neutrophils, the cellular infantry of our immune system. What this suggests is that chicken soup might help relieve some of the “collateral damage” symptoms of a cold by reducing the inflammation that results from our immune system fighting off the virus. I think that more likely than having any physiological effect, chicken soup helps put us in a better mindset when fighting off an infection, and lowering stress is necessary for a healthy immune system.

Surprisingly, a great many people still feel that the best immune system boosters are dietary supplements. I feel like I shouldn’t need to say this again, but dietary supplements are NOT tested or regulated by the FDA. “Airborne” in particular ran into some lawsuits for claims made on its packaging. It turns out that the “clinic” that independently tested this product for its effectiveness was actually two guys in a basement, with not a scientist between them. Airborne has pulled the fabricated claims from their packaging after a confrontation with the Federal Trade Commission. Furthermore why do people proudly proclaim Airborne’s humble origin in a schoolteacher’s kitchen? Doesn’t that mean that the average schoolteacher is already ingesting everything in Airborne and not paying an extra $7.50 to have it shaped into a lozenge? Forgive my digression, but that has always bothered me.

With all of these home remedies that have little more than anecdote to back them up, I figured that I would give my own (and free) immune boosting method:

Have more sex.

The best part is that my cold remedy even has some scientific evidence backing it up. The quick and dirty version of this research is as follows: Scientists at Wilkes University surveyed 112 college students about their sexual frequency. These students were divided into four groups based on their sexual activities: none (abstainers), infrequent (less than once per week), frequent (one to two times per week), and very frequent (three or more times per week). Each of these students provided a saliva sample so researchers could test the levels of secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), the most common antibody found in our bodies. Antibodies are proteins secreted by our immune system and used to identify and neutralize bacteria, viruses, or other foreign objects in our bodies. The idea behind this study was that more antibodies mean a healthier immune system. This experiment showed that the people in the “frequent” category (one to two times per week) had higher levels of immunoglobulin A than the other three groups. Now, being the skeptic I am, I have some serious issues with concluding much from this study. Clifford Lowell, an immunologist at the University of California at San Francisco, hypothesized: “Sexually active people may be exposed to many more infectious agents than sexually non-active people.” While this seems probable, Dr. Douglas Fleming, head of the Royal College of General Practitioners’ influenza research unit, counters with the hypothesis that healthy people have more sex, not the other way around.

Let’s look at this situation from a more practical perspective though. The authors of the study found that people who have frequent sex also have higher levels of sIgA than those who abstain from sex, or who have infrequent sex. Ignoring whether the deed itself is responsible for the increased IgA levels (a prudent abstention of thought, as this study says nothing to suggest that conclusion), let’s look at this from the effects sex is known to have on our bodies, and see how those effects might help boost our immune system.

Frequent sex can help overcome an individual’s level of chronic stress. Chronic stress produces an increasing amount of cortisol, a steroidal hormone that, like other steroids, acts as an immunosuppressant. This is the reason that we ALWAYS get sick right before the big presentation or just before finals week, we are stressing ourselves into illness. Frequent sex can relieve some of this chronic stress and thus lower cortisol levels, helping the immune system function during stressful times. While this isn’t technically an immune system boost, many people in this country, including the college students the study was preformed on, live in an intensely competitive environment where chronic stress is ubiquitous. Secondly, people who exercise more and are of an overall better level of fitness have been shown to have better immune systems. Frequent sex, while not only in itself a form of exercise, it often engaged in by, as Dr. Flemming put it, people of an overall better level of fitness.

Now the Wilkes study also showed that people in the “very frequent” (engaging in sexual intercourse three or more times per week) group actually had lower levels of sIgA in their saliva samples. These results would be contradictory were the increased sIgA levels a direct result of having sex, as Dr. Lowell hypothesized. Medicine, however, is a science dealing with people. People aren’t in sterile laboratories being grown on defined media. People live in the real world, and have countless interactions everyday which provides an insurmountable number of variables for medical scientists to account for. However, If you can buy my whole stress level linked to immune system theory, then I can explain why the antibody counts dropped with the “very frequent” group. What it really comes down to is lifestyle. People, especially students, having sex three or more times per week might not be enjoying the health benefits of sex because of stressful lifestyles associated with being in the “very frequent” group. These stress factors might include having multiple partners, overindulging on alcohol or illicit drugs, lack of sleep, poor scholastic performance, etc. Any of these factors can significantly increase stress, and subsequently cortisol, levels. Furthermore, many of these factors in of themselves have been linked to a lower immune system. This of course isn’t to say that everyone having sex more than three times per week is making a poor lifestyle choice, only that with these 112 college students, those that fell into the “very frequent” category most likely had something else going on that was stressing them out.

Ok, so what do you take from all of this? Simply know that your immune response functions best when you are healthy. Exercise, eat right, and do what you can – including having “frequent” sex – to keep your stress level at a minimum.

Of course if you are suffering from sexual health problems such as erectile dysfunction, your stress level can skyrocket and your immune system will take a dive during these critical months. If this is the case, consider contacting The Doctor’s Clinic for Men for more information on how to treat ED, including FDA approved medications. The Doctor’s Clinic for men can be found online at www.doctorsclinicformen.com