01/04/2011 11:42 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Five Ways to Boost Your Natural Immunity
 (When Surrounded By Germs!)

Feeling vulnerable to illness when surrounded by sniffly people who are sneezing and coughing? Hoping they're all washing their hands as much as they should? You can safeguard yourself more than you might think.

I took several steps with my own kids when they were in junior high and high school, especially my daughter, who was a ski racer at that time. She had lots of homework and a rigorous ski schedule. Midway through ski season, she'd invariably start to get a sore throat and be flu-ish.

I'd immediately insist on earlier bedtimes, regardless of whether homework was done, and she'd complain that I was the only mother to do this (probably not!). We were already eating a diet based on whole grains, beans and lots of vegetables (which I adopted as part of my healing from invasive breast cancer), so the eating healthier part was covered.

Besides the obvious common-sensical measures of enough rest, eating healthy and good hygiene (hand washing), here are some good things you can do to enhance your immune system, nip illnesses in the bud and make your body inhospitable to viruses:

1. Cut down on our sugar intake or cut it all out altogether. Sugar decreases our immune response. (Have you ever noticed that kids get sick after Halloween, Christmas & Easter? Too much sugar.)

2. Cut out (or cut down) on foods like animal protein, processed and junk foods; replace with whole grains, vegetables and beans.

3. Add fermented foods such as good-quality miso soup (one- to three-year aged misos) to your diet. A cup a day, or a cup every other day. If you cannot tolerate soy or fermented foods, try a probiotic supplement. Adding good bacteria to your intestines helps build up your natural defenses.

4. Add a small amount of good-quality pickles (1-2 tablespoons) to each meal. This goes along with suggestion number three -- it's another way of adding good bacteria to your intestinal flora.

5. An Eastern Medicine home remedy is called ume-sho-bancha (see below) If I'm feeling like I'm coming down with something (or someone in my family is), I'll drink this once a day for a three-day period. My kids quickly got used to this home remedy and still do this at ages 21 and 24.

½-1 umeboshi plum (A little goes a long way! Available at Whole Foods Market or other health food stores)
Several drops to 1 teaspoon "good-quality" soy sauce (tamari wheat free can be used)
1 cup hot kukicha twig tea (a type of green tea with less caffeine)

Place umeboshi and soy sauce in the bottom of a tea cup (take out the pit of the umeboshi plum!). Pour in hot tea. Stir gently and drink immediately. Eat the plum. (Both the plum, which is a pickle, and the aged soy sauce contain probiotics.)

I'm not a doctor but have a lot of life experience with healing from major illness. And here's an M.D. who is in line with my approach on warding off illnesses.

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What keeps you healthy? Do any of the above suggestions ring true to you, or not? I'd love to hear from you. Please post your comments or thoughts below.