Eating for Immunity
Your immune system is your body’s first line of defence against bacterial or viral infections.
When a virus enters your body, various types of white blood cells are mobilised. These are designed to resist viruses, reduce their adverse effects and remember them for the future.
A healthy immune system plays a crucial role in whether you fall ill in the first place, and how effectively you’re able to fight off a virus once you start to experience symptoms.
Nurturing the immune system should be top of everyone’s shopping list at the moment.
This article will look at how foods and nutrients can support your immunity through this pandemic and beyond.
- Plant-Based Foods for Vitamin C
Humans are unusual in the animal kingdom because we can’t store vitamin C, so we need a constant supply.
In China and America, some medics have been trialling very high doses of vitamin C to help people recover from coronavirus. This is because many studies have demonstrated vitamin C is not only crucial for the functioning of the immune system’s T-cells, the soldier cells which search out and destroy invaders, but it may also reduce the inflammation associated with lung damage. Immune system cells which swallow viruses, called phagocytes, need vitamin C to function, so it makes sense to provide them with this nutrient.
Unfortunately, Vitamin C is very easily destroyed by heat and cooking, especially when boiling vegetables and discarding the water, as well as by storing food for long periods.
Tip: Choose a variety of fresh, locally produced, colourful fruit and vegetables rich in vitamin C. Look for yellow peppers, broccoli, kale, strawberries and tomatoes and cover half of your plate with them at each meal. You’ll also be consuming a healthy dose of antioxidants, immune-supporting beta carotene and a good level of fibre to support your gut bacteria, or microbiome.
- Fermented Foods
On the subject of intestinal bacteria, with three quarters of your immune system being found in your gut, the importance of your microbiome for immune health can’t be overemphasised. The bacteria found there interact with and instruct your immune cells.
Research has found gut bacteria can affect the immune system’s response to the influenza virus, ensuring it’s neither underactive nor overactive.
Fermented foods and drinks like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi all naturally contain bacteria, encouraging a great environment for your microbiome to flourish.
Tip: If you have extra time on your hands, why not try making your own?
- Choose Foods Rich in Omega 3
The essential fatty acid Omega 3 helps white blood cells called B-lymphocytes function properly. These cells produce antibodies, building up immunity to viruses. Because Omega 3 is unstable, it’s generally removed from processed foods, meaning many people are deficient.
Tip: Enjoy oily fish like wild-caught salmon, mackerel or trout at least twice weekly, or if you don’t eat fish, munch on almonds, walnuts, flax or pumpkin seeds.
- Bin Sugar
Although it’s tempting to snack on a sugary treat if you’re stressed or feeling down, remember sugar can adversely affect your immune system and encourage inflammation, as well as disrupt your microbiome.
Tip: Reward yourself instead with a handful of fresh nuts or a square of dark chocolate.
- Enjoy Garlic
In test tubes at least, extract of garlic has been found to slow the rate an influenza virus penetrates cells and multiplies inside them. It may also assist the immune system’s Natural Killer cells. These contain the virus ready for other immune cells to attack it.
Tip: Lightly fry onions and garlic in coconut oil and use as the base of almost any savoury dish. Or pop a few cloves to roast in the oven. Garlic pairs well with turmeric, another potent anti-inflammatory.
- Guard Against Vitamin D Deficiency
It’s estimated one fifth of the UK population is deficient in vitamin D. With people spending more time indoors, there’s a real chance this alarming figure will rise still further. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the immune system, with any deficiency increasing susceptibility to infection.
Vitamin D is relatively scarce in food, being naturally found only in fatty fish, beef liver, cheese and eggs.
Tip: Expose your skin to at least 20 minutes of sunshine daily – lean your arms out of the window if you can’t access an outside space. You may wish to consider taking a supplement if you suspect you’re low in Vitamin D
Functional Medicine and the Immune System
We are all unique and the suggestions above are general guidelines for supporting your immune system.
Functional Medicine believes ill-health, including immune system dysfunction, has its origin in imbalances in the body. If you would like to explore how to support your immune system using Functional Medicine, a one–to–one consultation will assess your nutritional status, lifestyle and unique genetic inheritance to provide you with personalised dietary and lifestyle measures to naturally support your immune system. Contact me today.