BETHANY, Mo. – Cold and flu season is in full swing. One defense against them is to get plenty of vitamin E.

Researchers at Tufts University’s USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging found that vitamin E improves the body’s response to the flu vaccine and reduces the risk of upper respiratory infections, says Janet Hackert, regional nutrition and health education specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

“Most adults need 15 milligrams per day, except breastfeeding mothers, who need 19 milligrams per day,” Hackert said.

Many foods contain vitamin E. One cup of fortified cereal, for example, contains 20-40 milligrams; an ounce of sunflower seeds contains 14 milligrams; an ounce of dry roasted almonds has 8 milligrams; 2 tablespoons of peanut butter has 3 milligrams; one raw mango contains 2 milligrams, as does a half cup of frozen broccoli, cooked.

“Getting vitamin E from foods is the recommended method, since there is a tolerable upper intake level for this nutrient,” she said. Fresh fruits and vegetables also contain other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help strengthen the immune system.

Physical activity, such as walking at least 20 minutes per day, has been shown to improve the immune system as well. “Losing weight can also be a factor,” Hackert said. Research indicates that excess body fat can weaken the immune system.

“Getting plenty of fluids and washing hands often and carefully can also greatly reduce the risk of contracting these contagious diseases,” she added.

And it’s not too late to get a flu shot. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, but with months left in the flu season, it can still be useful, she said.

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