Ochsner on Your Immune System: Separating Myth from Fact

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By Jeanenne Brignac, MD, Primary Care Physician, Ochsner Health Center – Central
Your immune system protects you against illness, so you want to do all you can to give it a boost. Dr. Jeannenne  Brignac, Primary Care Physician at Ochsner Health Center – Central, separates myth from fact to keep your immune system in top shape.
Stress makes you vulnerable to illness.  Fact!  Stress can make you more susceptible to illnesses from the common cold to chronic disease. Reducing the stress in your life or improving your ability to cope with stress you can't escape will help. Simple things like deep breathing or meditation can reduce the effects of stress.
Getting a flu shot weakens your immune system and makes you more likely to get the flu.  Myth! Getting a flu vaccine teaches your immune system to recognize the flu virus as a threat. A flu vaccine contains a dead or weakened virus that cannot infect you. Someone who gets the flu after a flu shot will probably have a milder form. The occasional side effects of the vaccine are more likely to come from an unrelated bug.
What you eat has an effect on your immune system.  Fact! No single food will instantly boost your immune system, but a balanced, healthy diet with a variety of foods, antioxidant-rich items and fewer trans fats keeps your immune system in good shape.
Your immune system gets weaker as you grow older.  Fact! As you age, your ability to fight infections diminishes. Older adults are more likely to get sick from infections. Infections such as flu and pneumonia are more likely to be fatal.
Running a fever when you're sick weakens your immune system.  Myth! A fever helps your immune system fight infections in two ways: it speeds up the function of cells that fight illness, and makes it harder for invading microbes to multiply. Call a doctor for unexplained fever in infants and children, if your fever lasts more than two or three days, or goes over 103 degrees.
Allergies are caused by an overactive immune system.  Fact! Allergy symptoms occur when your immune system reacts to a normally harmless substance such as pollen, pet dander, or mold. Your body sees these as dangerous invaders and attacks, causing a runny nose and itchy eyes. Allergies are treated by avoiding allergy triggers and taking medication to control symptoms.
Researchers are working on vaccines that can boost the immune system response to cancer.  Fact! The immune system can have a hard time recognizing cancer cells as invaders, because they come from inside the body. In other cases, the immune system recognizes them but is too weak to fight them off. Researchers are working to restore and harness the immune system's power against cancer cells through treatments known as biological therapies (immunotherapy). Cancer vaccines are one kind of biological therapy.
Dr. Brignac is a Primary Care and Family Medicine Physician at Ochsner Health Center – Central, located in the Central Park Professional Plaza, 11424-2 Sullivan Road, Central, LA. For appointments: 225-754-5088 or online at