Nutrition for a Strong Immune SystemApril 1, 2020
When we are born, we are offered security against illness from the immunoglobins in our mother’s breast milk. Throughout our infancy, we’re subjected to dust, pets, pollen and other foreign materials to teach our immune system how to fight off invaders. Eventually, with the help from mom and our environment; our own immune system is up and running and is able to fend off bacteria, viruses, and tumor/cancer cells on our own.
Variations in our adult immunity are caused by not only early life exposure but a few other factors. Age, gender, smoking status, exercise, alcohol intake, diet, stress, and vaccinations, all affect our immuno-competence.
We have protective barriers of skin, the lining of our lungs and our gastrointestinal tract (GI) to protect our organs from the environment. When there is a breakdown, germs can enter the body. Keeping the gut protected through the consumption of prebiotics (foods like bananas, onions, garlic, artichokes, and asparagus which feed probiotics) as well as probiotics (good bacteria found in: yogurt, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut); ensures that you are resistant to many infections.
To keep our immune system balanced we need to ensure that we are consuming a diet adequate in micronutrients, that we wouldn’t normally consider when contemplating a healthy diet. Oftentimes we’ll think of green veggies, lean meat, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats; we generally don’t think of the micro-nutrients in these foods. Let’s take Zinc for example, a deficiency will result in a reduced number of lymphocytes (immune cells); less lymphocytes reduces the body’s ability to defend itself. Therefore we end up reducing our overall intake, further weakening our defenses, allowing the infection to take hold.
So what are the key micronutrients for our immune system and what foods can we find them?
• As stated previously Zinc affects all age groups and sensitive populations especially regarding pneumonia and diarrhea. The foods with the highest sources include: red meat, oysters, beans, chickpeas, almonds, dairy, egg yolks, and whole grains.
• Vitamin E has been shown to be effective to help older adults and immune-compromised individuals defend against upper respiratory infections. Vitamin E is found in: Nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts), sunflower seeds, leafy green vegetables, avocado and trout.
• Vitamin C may be beneficial but it depends on the population and what the concern is. Infections and stress cause Vitamin C to decline in the plasma (liquid part of the blood) and leukocytes. Mystery solved! What a good reason to drink that orange juice when we’re under the weather!
Many of the foods listed are commonly consumed but may be neglected when we restrict calories intentionally or unintentionally. Common examples include limiting beef and eating an abundance of white meat chicken, skipping whole grains for cauliflower-replacements, eating egg whites rather than the whole egg, and using dairy alternatives rather than cow’s milk. Try to consume a well-balanced diet and avoid limiting any foods. Natural sources of food is best, taking a supplement only providing you with ‘protein’ or ‘fiber’ doesn’t help that immune system!