In PART I of this blog series, I established the basics behind immunity, metabolic health and diet, and the immunometabolism. In PART II I’d like to dive right into how you can boost your immunity through diet and lifestyle choices. A few tweaks will not only promote greater vitality and wellbeing, but you will notice significant improvements in your ability to fight off or recover from illness/disease. If you didn’t have the opportunity to read PART I of this blog, you can check it out by visiting here.
Immunity-Boosting Vitamins & Minerals
To truly appreciate how much diet can impact immunity, its important to first understand the role of vitamins and minerals in immune health. There are many different Vs and Ms, and it would be a task to cover them all, so I’ve broken down some of the more common ones we see and hear about from day-to-day.
These compounds help to stabilize highly reactive and harmful free radicals (FR). When these FR occur, damage to membranes, enzymes, and DNA can result. Antioxidants play a role in destroying FR and significantly improving immune responses.
Assists in rapidly reproducing and activating white blood cells involved in the immune response. White blood cells are the primary specialized cells that contribute to destroying disease-causing microorganisms. Zinc also enhances antibody actions to help ward of infections.
A large contributor to immune defense, vitamin C supports a multitude of cellular functions. This antioxidant readily donates electrons which helps protect proteins, lipids, carbs, and nucleic acids from damage by oxidants generated during normal cell metabolism and exposure to toxins/pollutants. It also stimulates neutrophil migration to the site of infection and plays part in microbial killing. Additionally, it is necessary for warding off pathogens and works to prevent and treat systematic infection by enhancing various immune cell functions.
An immunity booster that activates thyroid gland hormones, acting as a very strong antioxidant and functions to protect the body from free radicals. Selenium also contributes to minimizing inflammation and is needed to help detoxify your tissues.
An anti-bacterial compound that aids in illness prevention while boosting anti-inflammatory properties. Allicin has also been shown to react with sulfur-based compounds that fight disease and boost white blood cells.
A fundamental element for normal immune system development, iron is necessary for immune cell proliferation and maturation, specific to infection response. It is also used by the body during the production of bacteriostatic cells, a biological agent that stops bacteria from reproducing.
Eating For Immunity
If I only had a penny for every time I was told, “You are what you eat”, I would be rich. It seems only fitting that a major key to a healthy immune system is to fill your diet with whole foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, prebiotics and probiotics, and anti-inflammatory properties such as antioxidants.
Adequate and appropriate nutrition is required for all cells to function optimally and this includes the cells in the immune system. An “activated” immune system further increases the demand for energy during periods of infection, with greater basal energy expenditure during fever for example. Thus, optimal nutrition for the best immunological outcomes would be nutrition, which supports the functions of immune cells allowing them to initiate effective responses against pathogens but also to resolve the response rapidly when necessary and to avoid any underlying chronic inflammation.
In addition, research studies have determined that when the immune system demands energy and nutrients, those sources can be met directly through diet. Furthermore, if those sources aren’t available or are inadequate, the immune system can resort to body stores. In fact, macronutrients (carbs/fats/proteins) have specific roles in the development and maintenance of the immune system!
Foods To Promote Immunity & Wellbeing
Here are some excellent food sources to incorporate into your diet to boost and support a strong immune system.
- Button Mushrooms: Rich in selenium, riboflavin, and niacin, button mushrooms increase the production of antiviral, and other proteins, released by cells when seeking to repair and protect tissues
- Oysters: In their raw form, oysters contain the most nutrients, ranging from vitamins B23 and D, zinc, copper, selenium, manganese, phosphorus, riboflavin, and omega-3 fatty acids!
- Garlic: Known for its ability to fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Allicin, the bioactive compound found in garlic, is known for its antibacterial properties that help in preventing illnesses
- White, Green, or Black Tea: Incorporating 3-4 cups a day can deliver disease-fighting polyphenols and flavonoids, two powerful antioxidants that seek out cell-damaging radicals and destroy them
- Acai Berry: This superfood berry is loaded with anthocyanins, a flavonoid serving as a potent antioxidant. Acai is known for lowering inflammation, combating oxidative stress, and boosting immunity!
Limit Alcohol To Support Stronger Immunity
A cocktail here, a cold one there, who doesn’t enjoy a good drink now and again? Most of us are well aware of the negative effects alcohol can have on our bodies — from the liver to the cardiovascular system, and then our waistline! But what about the damage going on to the immune system?
It begins in the gut where important microbes live and hang out in the intestines. The gut microbiome is a huge player in fighting disease and illness. Alcohol damages intestinal epithelial cells, making it harder to absorb vital nutrients. Additionally, it alters the balance of the healthy-unhealthy bacteria found in the gut microbiome and any disruption to the gut barrier can allow more bacteria to pass into the blood.
Problems aren’t just happening in the belly. Alcohol also affects the function of the immune cells found in the lungs and upper respiratory system. Studies show that the immunity of the mucus found in the lungs (and digestive tract) can increase the severity of any disease/illness.
Consider a Nutritional Coaching Program
Did you know as a nutrition coach and professional that I specialize in the Anti-Inflammatory Diet (AID)? Now that you’ve learned all about the impact diet can have on your body’s ability to fight illness, disease, and inflammation, you may be interested in applying it but aren’t quite sure where or how to begin.
The AID focuses on filling your diet with whole, nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants while providing the essential macronutrients and micronutrients your body needs to thrive! Taking things one step farther, I am able to coach you through the program with a goal-specific focus, including weight loss, reduction of visceral fat levels, lean mass gain or maintenance, improving blood work results, and much more!
Please feel free to contact me to discuss how the Anti-Inflammatory Diet could benefit your overall health and wellbeing. Your questions are my answers, and my door is always open.
- Childs, C. E., Calder, P. C., & Miles, E. A. (2019). Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients, 11(8), 1933. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081933
- USDA/Agricultural Research Service. (2010, July 30). Researchers study benefits of white button mushrooms. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100729101609.htm#:%7E:text=The%20result %20suggest%20that%20white,to%20protect%20and%20repair%20tissue.
- Borlinghaus, J., Albrecht, F., Gruhlke, M. C., Nwachukwu, I. D., & Slusarenko, A. J. (2014). Allicin: chemistry and biological properties. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 19(8), 12591–12618. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules190812591
- Carr, A. C., & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients, 9(11), 1211. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9111211
- Bendich, A. (1993). Physiological Role of Antioxidants in the Immune System. Journal of Dairy Science, 76(9), 2789–2794. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.s0022-0302(93)77617-1
- Cassat, J. E., & Skaar, E. P. (2013). Iron in infection and immunity. Cell host & microbe, 13(5), 509–519. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chom.2013.04.010
- Recovery Ways. (2018, December 3). How Does Alcohol Affect Your Immune System? Retrieved from https://www.recoveryways.com/rehab-blog/how-does-alcohol-affect-your-immune-system/