There is renewed interest in the immune system as we have come to realize that drugs do not offer all the options in maintaining health. There has never before been such a concern about the possibilities of new microbes that could cause pandemics or about the rise in cancers across the globe. Medical science has repeatedly shown that the immune system may be more effective than certain drugs in fighting and preventing these diseases.
The immune system is our first line of defense when faced with diseases. Even vaccines that are used to prevent diseases depend on the immune system to do the work. The immune system works extremely well in a healthy person to combat diseases on a daily basis and often we are unaware of the infections and even cancers that we averted due to the action of our immune system.
Today immune therapies are being used to boost and modulate the immune system to target cancers, counteract infections and prevent certain cancers and infections where possible. The state of the immune system is dependent on the overall health of a person. Therefore a person who is healthy, well nourished, exercises regularly, sleeps sufficiently, does not overindulge in substances like alcohol and has stress levels under control will have a more effective immune system.
- Read more on how to boost the immune system for the flu season.
Immune Boosting Foods
Nutrition is one of the cornerstones of maintaining a healthy immune system. It should involve a balanced diet with frequent meals but some foods may offer a distinct advantage due to its concentration of micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Fruit and Vegetables
All fresh fruits and raw or partially cooked vegetables can be beneficial to overall health and therefore to immune health as well. Fruits and vegetables contain a host of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals that contribute to a healthy immune system. Some of the more notable fruits and vegetables include:
- Bell peppers
- Sweet potato
Nuts, Legumes, Grains and Seeds
- Brazil nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheat germ
Poulty and red meat also have a number of nutrients that can be beneficial to the immune system. However, the seafood mentioned above may have distinct advantages from other animal protein.
- Fortified foods including milk, cereals, bread, rice and pasta.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are the micronutrients that our body needs to function at its peak. It is used for a number of different purposes and in a host of different biochemical processes. Unlike macronutrients, vitamins and minerals are needed in much smaller quantities on a regular basis. These days many of the processed foods that have become commonplace in the modern diet is lacking in vitamins and minerals.
Nutritional supplements have become somewhat of the norm but it is not always necessary. Eating a balanced diet with the foods mentioned above like fruit, vegetables and fatty fish is often sufficient to ensure adequate intake of vitamins and minerals. It is important to note that a high intake of certain vitamins and minerals can have adverse effects as a result of toxicity.
The body requires all micronutrients but the following vitamins and minerals are particularly important for immune functioning and often lacking in the modern diet.
Carotenoids in vegetables such as carrots, cantalopue, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and squash are converted into vitamin A within the body. These carotenoids are not only powerful antioxidants but vitamin A is known for strengthening the immune system. These immune benefits of vitamin A has been particularly noted to reduce the severity of symptoms and even death in people with certain viral infections.
- Read more on vitamin A deficiency.
All of the B-vitamins are required for overall health and therefore play a role in strengthening the immune system. Three of these vitamins that are notable when it comes to immune defenses is vitamin B6, folate (vitamin B9) and vitamin B12.
Vitamin B6 is found in a variety of foods including vegetables, legumes, grains and meat so deficiencies are uncommon. Folate is added to many foods (fortified) and is also found in leafy green vegetables. Vitamin B12 is found in animal protein, including seafood, poultry, eggs, meat and milk.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is found in a variety of foods, like citrus fruits, and it has been touted as an immune booster for decades. The research supports its benefits in that a vitamin C deficiency can lead to a weakening in the immune defenses. Since vitamin C is not produced in the human body and is quickly excreted, daily intake is necessary.
- Read more on benefits of vitamin C.
Vitamin D can be acquired from food but the body does not absorb very well. Most of us acquire vitamin D through its production on the skin surface with exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D has been discovered to impact on the innate and adaptive immune system and is another important vitamin for immune health.
Vitamin E is found in nuts, beans, certain legumes and grains as well some vegetable oils. It is known to be a powerful antioxidant and stimulates immune activity. Apart from strengthening the immune defenses, vitamin E has also shown to improve the immune response to vaccines.
- Read more on vitamin E deficiency.
Selenium is another important mineral for immune health and it is acquired in sufficient quantities witha balanced diet. Despite being abundant, people who eat little to no oily fish, nuts or vegetables may be deficient. Selenium is known to increase the activity of immune cells and stimulate the production of immune chemicals like interferon.
Zinc is found in a range of foods, from legumes, nuts and seeds to poultry, seafood and dairy. This mineral is well known for its benefits with regard to immune defenses. It is also found to play a role in controlling inflammation and aid with wound healing.