by Sue Camp
Nutritional foundations to strengthen your immunity
We’re living in challenging times; the COVID-19 outbreak is unprecedented in recent history, and there are no guidelines for an epidemiological event of this scope and magnitude.
Winston Churchill apparently said “Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.”
Amidst our current uncertainty, there are still some things we can influence, and our health, both mental and physical, is one of them.
The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins and provides the body’s defence mechanism against infections and viruses. The immune system has a number of responses to fend off these bugs including cytotoxic T-Cells, Natural Killer cells, cell death and the formation of antibodies.
Immunonutrition is the potential to modulate the activity of the immune system by interventions with specific nutrients. Our first immune strategy is always dietary. The standard Western diet with high amounts of energy dense, processed food inhibits our immune capacity.
Immune support starts with a balanced, varied, colourful wholefood diet that excludes refined, foods and sugar.
Food is information to the body and can be considered the air-traffic controller of the immune system.
Research indicates that brightly coloured vegetables and fruits strengthen immunity better than most supplements. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables—aim for 10 servings per day.
Taking care of our gut health is a priority; most of our immune system is in our gut. It’s about dietary diversity and variety which provides a complex and broad range of nutrients – and fibre.
Probiotics contain “good bacteria” that not only support the health of the gut but also influence immune system functioning and regulation. They can be found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, fermented tempeh (type of soya), miso, kefir and natural yogurt.
Beta-glucans are important structural component of cell walls in certain organisms such as bacteria, fungi and some plants. They can help to upregulate the immune system.
Food sources include reishi, maitake and shiitake mushrooms as well as oats, whole grains, seaweed and algae.
Just to add, those humble mushrooms also act as antibacterial, immune system enhancers and even cholesterol lowering agents. Additionally they provide important nutrients including selenium, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin D, proteins and fibre.
Supporting our digestive function also means eating slowly, mindfully and chewing more!
A couple of other crucial nutrients include the following:
Vitamin A protects the epithelium and mucus integrity in the body and possesses anti-inflammatory effects
Find it in cod liver oil, beef liver, eggs, fortified milk and cereals. Other sources of beta-carotene include orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, as well as broccoli, spinach and most dark green, leafy vegetables.
Supplemental levels are around 800mcg per day.
Vitamin C helps to enhance white blood cell function and activity and maximise the body’s anti-oxidative capacity and natural immunity.
Citrus fruits are of course on the list -oranges, limes and lemons. Other fruit include strawberries, kiwis, papaya, guavas, persimmons and lychees, and vegetables to include are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, yellow peppers as well as herbs such as thyme and parsley.
With regards to supplemental dosing, consider 1000mg a daily maintenance dose and increase to bowel tolerance for additional support.
Vitamin D is a key nutrient affecting the immune response and has been shown to possess or stimulate anti-viral properties. Vitamin D receptors are found on a number of immune cells, supporting healthy immune cell activation.
Get in the sun when you can!
Food sources include fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel, salmon, herring and sardines as well as cheese, egg yolks and mushrooms.
It’s an inexpensive supplement; consider additional support from at least 2000iu per day.
Zinc deficiency may result in increased susceptibility to a variety of pathogens. Zinc is crucial for normal development and function of our immune cells.
Oysters, red meat, shellfish and poultry are excellent sources of zinc. Vegetarian options include cheese, milk as wells as legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and beans, seeds such as hemp, pumpkin and sesame, as well as nuts including cashews and almonds.
Supplemental levels can vary from 10-30mg per day.
Lifestyle routines, too, are a crucial part of supporting immunity:
- Chronic stress can negatively alter immune system responses, making you more likely to get sick. Identify your personal stress reduction strategies and practice them regularly.
- Sleep has a big influence on immune function, so get plenty of it.
- Keep moving – regular physical activity helps to strengthen the immune system function by raising levels of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies, increasing circulation, and decreasing stress hormones.
Our suggestion is to take this time to increase your immune system strength, work on your physical health, balance your emotional health and to stop those health sabotaging habits.
Remember, fear only creates stress, which further compromises our immunity.
Feel gratitude and find the positives on a daily basis.
Sue Camp is part of the Soulhub Team, and a Registered Nutritional Therapist, certified Functional Medicine practitioner. To find out more about Sue and how to get in touch with her, head here
Tips shared as part of the Soulhub Autumn Festival with Melinda McDougall.
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