Immune System Overview: Healthy Foods and Supplements that Boost Immunity

Introduction

Do you know why you get sick while someone else you know might rarely become ill? Your childhood friend Tom and you are driving to a restaurant for lunch in the same car. Tom (the source) is sick with the flu and sneezes. The germs (invaders) leave Tom and travel everywhere in the air, including to you (the new host) when you breathe in the contaminated air. Now in this situation, whether you get sick or not depends on the quality of your immune system as well as the number of invaders that came out of Tom’s sneeze which ends up going into your body. Every day, we live through countless scenarios like this, and the immune system is what protects us from the numerous pathogens surrounding us.[1] The immune system is very essential to the survival of human beings. By keeping our immune system in superb condition, we are able to reduce our susceptibility to pathogen attacks and getting sick. In this article, we will briefly go over the general overview of the immune system, then we will cover some healthy foods and supplements that may help in promoting our immune system in the defense against pathogens.

What is the Immune System and How does it Function?

The immune system is a complicated group of various types of cells and organs which cooperate to rid the body of foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses from causing chaos in the body.[2,3] The primary components of the immune system include white blood cells (WBC), antibodies, lymphatic system, spleen, bone marrow, and the thymus.[1,2] You can consider WBCs to be the defenders of the body in that they patrol for threats such as viruses and bacteria, then they perform an immune attack that destroys these foreign invaders.[1,2] Antibodies are like the targets that can identify these foreign invaders, they mark these threats for destruction. The lymphatic system is a delicate tubular network that is connected throughout the body. Some of its functions include responding to bacterial and viral threats, managing body fluid levels, absorbing fats from the GI tract as well as ridding the body of cellular wastes that could otherwise be harmful to the body.[1,2] Next, we have the spleen which basically just acts as a filtration system for blood by removing any microbes as well as any outdated and impaired red blood cells (RBC).[1,2] The bone marrow produces WBCs, RBCs as well as the platelets that are used to help clot any wounds. The thymus takes in the progenitor cells that come from the bone marrow and helps them to mature into T-lymphocytes.[1,2] Overall, the immune system works together to prevent any pathogens from damaging our body.

Lifestyle and Nutrition Balancing to Boost’s the Body’s Natural Immunity

The two simple ways of keeping the body and immune system healthy are eating a balanced diet and keeping an active lifestyle. You must have heard of the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” before. This is not saying you never will get sick if you eat an apple a day (otherwise all hospitals and pharmacies would be out of business), but instead, it is implying that if your diet is well balanced with nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, you will decrease your susceptibility to becoming sick.[8] In addition to a balanced diet, exercising regularly helps to keep the body in good shape; however, you should not exercise as much when you are feeling sick because your body needs rest in order to recover from an illness.[4,7] Some other things to help keep your immune system strong include not smoking, preserving a healthy weight, getting sufficient sleep each day, washing hands frequently, making sure meats are cooked properly, and also reducing stress.[7] Last but not least, you may also want to speak with your doctor regarding vaccinations such as the flu shot and now, the covid-19 vaccine for coronavirus to minimize your risk of becoming ill.

What Foods are Helpful in Promoting Immune Support?

            Diet is a very crucial factor in maintaining health and it can also help boost your immune system with proper nutrition. An article on Healthline recommended 15 foods that can help give your immune system a boost in the fight against pathogens. These booster foods are very common and include citrus fruit, red bell pepper, broccoli, garlic, ginger, spinach, yogurt, almonds, sunflower seeds, turmeric, green tea, papaya, kiwi, chicken, and shellfish. When selecting these foods, definitely be careful with your allergy conditions and medications as many people are allergic to things like shellfish products and citrus fruit such as grapefruit will interact with many medications. In general, these foods are able to boost your immune system because they are a plentiful source of vitamin C, vitamin E, antioxidants, and minerals such as zinc.[4]  

Which Supplements are Helpful in Promoting Immune Support?

            In a perfect world, we would be able to obtain all of the essential vitamins and minerals through our perfectly balanced and healthy diets; however, more often than not, this perfect scenario does not happen. Many of us skip breakfast or grab a protein snack on our rush to work, then proceed to eat plenty of junk food throughout the day to satiate our hunger. Supplements are just what they sound like, they are not meant to replace your meals but added as a supplemental source of vitamins and minerals. Both Healthline and the Cleveland clinic made a list of supplements that may help in promoting a healthier immune system, I have selected 3 of the most commonly available supplements. The recommended supplements include vitamin D, which is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be obtained from sunlight and helps with the absorption of calcium. In 2019, there was a study done with over 10,000 people that showed vitamin D helping to decrease the risk of respiratory infections.[5] However, it is important to keep in mind that because vitamin D is fat-soluble, it is not easily excreted by drinking plenty of water so make sure you are following directions and not overdosing on it. Zinc is another one of the recommended supplements, being an essential mineral to help with the development of immune cells and inflammatory response.[5] The famous supplement, vitamin C, is a water-soluble vitamin and is another one that can help with boosting the immune system with its functions of being a powerful antioxidant and reducing oxidative stress.[5]

Conclusion

            In conclusion, we can all concur that being sick is miserable and if we have a choice, we will not want to become ill. Having a healthy balanced diet and doing 150 minutes of exercise every week is a great way to start boosting your immune system health right away. Of course, looking over the list of healthy foods and supplements mentioned above will give you some ideas on what to pick up the next time you are at your local grocery store. In the end, it is important to mention that no food or supplement can make claims on treating or preventing disease(s) so before making any drastic changes, discuss your plan with your doctors.

Lastly, this article is not meant to treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease; it is for informational purposes only so make sure to consult with your physician and pharmacist before starting any new medications, medical food, or supplements.

References:

[1] Tim Newman. “The Immune System: Cells, Tissues, Function, and Disease.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 11 Jan. 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320101

[2] Khatri, Minesh. “Use Your Immune System to Prevent the Flu (but Get the Vaccine, Too).” WebMD, 30 Aug. 2019, https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/use-your-immune-system-to-prevent-flu#1

[3] Department of Health & Human Services. “Immune System.” Better Health Channel, Department of Health & Human Services, 30 Mar. 2014, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/immune-system

[4] Schend, James. “15 Foods That Boost the Immune System.” Healthline, 30 Apr. 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/foods-that-boost-the-immune-system

[5] Kubala, Jillian. “The 15 Best Supplements to Boost Your Immune System Right Now.” Healthline, 7 May 2020, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/immune-boosting-supplements

[6] Team, Wellness. “8 Vitamins & Minerals You Need for a Healthy Immune System.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 4 Dec. 2020, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/eat-these-foods-to-boost-your-immune-system/

[7] Publishing, Harvard Health. “How to Boost Your Immune System.” Harvard Health, Sept. 2014, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system

[8] Team, Heart and Vascular. “3 Vitamins That Can Help Boost Your Immunity.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 2 Jan. 2020, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/3-vitamins-best-boosting-immunity/

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