Eating to Boost Immunity.
The emergence of coronavirus (COVID-19) has shone more light on the critical role of nutrition in supporting immune health and even though the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that “while no foods or dietary supplements can prevent or cure COVID-19 infection, healthy diets are important for supporting immune systems because people with weaker immune systems are at greater risk for serious complications from the virus and may have it for a longer period of time than those with stronger immune systems.
So let’s talk about the Immune systems and what nutrients you need to boost your immune system;
What Is Our Immune System?
On a daily basis, we are constantly exposed to potentially harmful microbes of all sorts. Our immune system, a network of intricate stages and pathways in the body, protects us against these harmful microbes as well as certain diseases. It recognizes foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and parasites and takes immediate action. Humans possess two types of immunity: innate and adaptive.
- Innate immunity is a first-line defense from pathogens that try to enter our bodies, achieved through protective barriers. These barriers include:
- Skin that keeps out the majority of pathogens
- Mucus that traps pathogens
- Stomach acid that destroys pathogens
- Enzymes in our sweat and tears that help create antibacterial compounds
- Immune system cells that attack all foreign cells entering the body
2. Adaptive or acquired immunity is a system that learns to recognize a pathogen. It is regulated by cells and organs in our body like the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. When a foreign substance enters the body, these cells and organs create antibodies and lead to multiplication of immune cells (including different types of white blood cells) that are specific to that harmful substance and attack and destroy it. Our immune system then adapts by remembering the foreign substance so that if it enters again, these antibodies and cells are even more efficient and quick to destroy it.
Before we can talk about nutrition and the immune system let’s talk about some factors that can depress our immune system.
- Old age: As we age, our internal organs may become less efficient; immune-related organs like the thymus or bone marrow produce less immune cells needed to fight off infections. Ageing is sometimes associated with micronutrient deficiencies, which may worsen a declining immune function.
- Environmental toxins (smoke and other particles contributing to air pollution, excessive alcohol): These substances can impair or suppress the normal activity of immune cells.
- Chronic diseases: Autoimmune and immunodeficiency disorders attack and potentially disable immune cells.
- Chronic mental stress: Stress releases hormones like cortisol that suppresses inflammation (inflammation is initially needed to activate immune cells) and the action of white blood cells.
- Lack of sleep and rest: Sleep is a time of restoration for the body, during which a type of cytokine is released that fights infection; too little sleep lowers the amount of these cytokines and other immune cells.
- Poor diet: Malnutrition or a diet lacking in one or more nutrients can impair the production and activity of immune cells and antibodies.
Nutrition is a critical determinant of the immune response, and malnutrition has been long understood to impair immune function. While malnutrition is often suggested to be related to undernutrition, it encompasses overnutrition, as well. The extent of impairment is dependent upon the severity of the deficiency, consideration to nutrient interactions, the presence of infection, and age. Research suggests that nutrients may directly or indirectly impact immune cells causing changes in their function or may exert effects via changes in the gut microbiome.
While maintaining adequate nutrition is vital, there are specific nutrients that are essential for immunocompetence, namely vitamins A, C, D, E, B6, and B12, folic acid, iron, selenium, and zinc. Micronutrient deficiencies can predispose an individual to certain infections, and immune function may be improved by restoring deficient micronutrients to recommended levels, which can increase resistance to infection and support recovery. However, it should be noted that while poor nutrition can compromise immune function and increase infection risk, excessive nutrient intake of some micronutrients, such as iron, may impair the immune system.
Now let’s look at specific nutrients that support the immune system
- Protein: is vital to build and repair tissues in the body. You need protein to create antibodies and cells that attack infections. If you don’t consume enough protein, you’ll manufacture fewer white blood cells to combat antigens and your immune system won’t operate at full strength.
2. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that supports the immune system by stimulating the activity of white blood cells which help to protect the body against infection.
3. Vitamin D supports the function of immune cells that protect your body against pathogens.
4. Zinc is an essential micronutrient that’s needed for normal development and functioning of immune cells. It also supports wound healing.
5. Iron supports the immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells that combat pathogens and prevent infection.
6. Vitamin B6 is essential in the formation of healthy red blood cells and aids in maintaining the lymphatic system; a network of tissues and organs which helps protect the body from infection and disease.
7. Vitamin B12 supports white blood cell activity which are essential for proper immune system functioning.
8. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that protects cells from damage and supports a healthy inflammatory response.
9. Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and protects against infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy.
10. Folate/Folic Acid helps create and repair cells’ DNA in the body and plays an important role in the healthy balance of the immune system.
11. Selenium is an important antioxidant that helps combat oxidative stress, which reduces inflammation and supports immune function.
12. Probiotics can influence the activity of our own immune cells, regulating inflammation, barrier function, and cell-to-cell signaling. A robust population of beneficial bacteria can help crowd out harmful bacteria.
Eating a good quality diet, as depicted by the Healthy Eating Plate (read more here https://medium.com/@ndaliblog/healthy-eating-plate-eating-a-balanced-diet-78ce7aaaa58a) can prevent deficiencies in these nutrients. Eating enough nutrients as part of a varied diet is required for the health and function of all cells, including immune cells.
It is also advisable to avoid smoking and drinking when boosting your immune cells. Regular exercising and good sleep of 7–9 hours is also very important.
We hope you have learnt one or two things from the post today. Kindly share with your friends so they can also learn ways to boost their immune cells
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