Rev Up the Immune System
It is important to have a strong immune system to fight harmful invaders like bacteria and viruses which can cause illness and infection. The immune system cells attack and neutralize these invaders. We have natural barriers that keep pathogens out and protect us from harm. For example, our skin acts as a protective barrier. The internal immune system is able to detect harmful organisms and go on the attack to eliminate them. Being physically fit with regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and having diverse gut bacteria can support and enhance our immune system. Here is more about this important defense system.
There are lifestyle factors that may have a negative impact and weaken the immune system. They include:
- Physical and psychological stressors
- Being frail
- Lack of sleep
We know that a well-balanced nutritious diet is important to the immune system to
- Provide the building blocks for new immune cells.
- Support the immune cells that protect us from inflammatory stress.
- Promote diverse gut bacteria that will fight invaders.
Many nutrients support our immune system including
- Vitamins: A, C, D, E, K, and the B-vitamins
- Minerals: zinc, copper and selenium
- Amino acids
- Essential fatty acids
Researchers estimate that 70% of our immune cells are linked to the gut wall. There are other substances and non-nutrients that can support a healthy immune system, such as
- polyphenols in fruits such as berries, apples, cherries; vegetables; soy; and tea
- prebiotics such as berries, bananas, garlic, leeks, onions, artichokes, beans and whole-grains to feed gut bacteria and support their diversity
- probiotics which give us more bacteria to do their good work in our intestinal tract. Probiotics with healthy bacteria or live cultures include fermented dairy such as yogurt and kefir, sauerkraut and tempeh.
In summary, an optimal intake of a variety of nutrients will provide a good nutritional status, and that is needed for an immune system that provides us with a good defense against pathogens and other potentially harmful substances.
About the Author
Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.
By: Rita P. Smith, MS, RD, CDE, Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital