Women may lay claim to the stronger sex

Women have long believed in the power of inner strength—and now scientists have confirmed it.

The research, carried out at the London University, claims women have a higher number of infection-fighting white blood cells than men making their immune system more powerful.

Julie Holt, food and health advisor for the Community Health Centre, Bolton, said: "Women, on the whole, are much more aware of eating a well-balanced diet—five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, oily fish and dairy foods—and because nutrition influences immunity, this is the best way to strengthen the immune system."

This will surely be welcome news for women, especially with winter around the corner bringing with it the annual doses of colds and flu.

"Nutrition can influence immunity because minerals and vitamins have a role in helping to make white blood cells which are needed to keep the body working properly," Holt said.

According to the experts at London University, women are, in general, more "clued in" on the right foods to eat—they read fashion and health magazines and keep abreast of what is good for the body and general well-being

"It's usually women who do the shopping," said Holt, "and generally keep an eye on the type of foods they eat, be it for health reasons or to generally look good.

"They are also more generally aware of what vitamin supplements are available."

However, while one-a-day supplements are an immediate source of nutrients to boost the immune system, Holt stresses they are not as effective as a lifestyle and dietary approach.

"Health supplements are good as a first stop in health perhaps but it's lifestyle, a balanced diet and good eating habits that are of paramount importance.

"The first step to a dietary overhaul should begin at the supermarket and every shopping basket should include a variety of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and whole grain foods."

Holt said stocking up on vitamin C foods such as citrus, berry and kiwi fruits, melons and peppers, iron-rich foods like dark green vegetables and oily fish and liver, which are also a good source of vitamin A, is a staple way of strengthening the immune system.

"Healthy eating," she said, "and a healthy lifestyle is a sure-fire way of boosting a flagging immune system."

According to the survey at the London University, once the diet has been revamped, it is time to look at fitness levels with research proving that regular exercise and high white blood cell counts go hand in hand.

"Everyday fitness is essential for good health and a healthy immune system," said Libby Jesse, senior health and fitness development officer for Bolton.

"It only takes a 30-minute gardening session, a moderate gym workout, a walk in the park or even a dancing session to make you look and feel fitter. It will also halve the chances of getting a cold.

"An active lifestyle certainly contributes to strengthening the immune system but I wouldn't like to comment on the findings that women have a more powerful system. I believe anyone, male or female, who couples a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet would certainly benefit."

Rebecca Frank is editor of Zest magazine and agrees with Libby that it is vital for both sexes to examine their lifestyles to boost a flagging immune system.

"It's the time of the year when everyone needs to make sure the body is fighting fit to ward off flu and colds." And Lyndel Costain, a dietician and nutrition consultant said: "Nutrition can influence immunity and whether it's supplementing your diet with vitamins or changing your eating habits, there are plenty ways to keep fit as the temperature drops. For both women and men.

"It also must be pointed out that older people, who perhaps find it difficult to get out and shop during the winter months, would definitely benefit from taking a multi-vitamin supplement."

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