Support your Health and Immunity through Nutrition

In these unprecedented times, many people may find themselves wondering how they can reduce their risk of infection or support their immune system. Healthy nutrition food and drink choices is essential to a strong immune system. Those who are malnourished are “at an increased risk of of infectious diseases”1. While no one food or supplement can completely prevent illness, you may help support your immune system by including key nutrients in your overall eating plan on a regular basis.

First Line Tips to Improve Immune Health

Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system working properly.

  • Do not smoke
  • Live an active lifestyle, sit less, and move more
  • Get an adquate amount of sleep as much as possible, aim for 7-9 hours of sleep nightly
  • Maintain a healthy weight/BMI
  • Practice good hygiene, washing hands thoroughly
  • Minimize stress, try self-care practices
  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation; wine, beer, liquor
  • To reduce risk of infection, stay current with vaccine recommendations

Nutrition Tips

An “activated” immune system further increases the demand for energy during periods of infection. For example, the body utilizes more energy when there is a fever. Therefore, “good, and sufficient nutrition supports the roles of immune cells permitting them to initiate effective responses against pathogens, but also to resolve the response rapidly when necessary and to avoid any underlying chronic inflammation”2.

The immune system’s demands for energy and nutrients can be met from food or dietary supplement sources, or if dietary sources are inadequate, from endogenous sources such as body stores. Some micronutrients and dietary components have very specific roles in the development and maintenance of an effective immune system or in reducing chronic inflammation. For example, the micronutrients vitamin A and zinc “regulate cell division and are therefore essential for a successful proliferative response within the immune system”2.

Micronutrients

Each stage of the body’s immune response relies on the presence of a variety of micronutrients. Examples of nutrients that have been identified as critical for the growth and function of immune cells include vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein1,3,4.

  • Vitamin A
    • Helps regulate the immune system and protect against infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines, and respiratory system healthy5.
    • Normal levels of vitamin A are critical for maintaining a proper balance of well-regulated T cell functions and for preventing excessive or prolonged inflammatory reactions6.
      • Food Sources: sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, liver, broccoli, kale, spinach, red bell peppers, eggs, or foods labeled "vitamin A fortified," such as milk or cereals.
    • Vitamin C 
      • Aids epithelial barrier function against pathogens and promotes the oxidant scavenging activity of the skin, thus potentially protecting against environmental oxidative stress7
      • Importantly, vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections7.
        • Food Sources: citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, or red bell pepper, papaya, strawberries, tomato juice.
      • Vitamin E 
        • An antioxidant that has been shown to enhance immune responses in animal and human models and to confer protection against several infectious diseases8
          • Food Sources: Peanuts, spinach, sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil), hazelnuts, and peanut butter.
        • Zinc 
          • Helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal.
          • Food Sources: lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans, seeds and nuts.
        • Other nutrients, including vitamin B6, B12, copper, folate, selenium and iron also may support immune response and play a role in a healthful eating style5.

Macronutrients

Protein plays a role in the body's immune system, especially for healing and recovery. A deficiency of dietary protein or amino acids has long been known to impair immune function and increase the susceptibility of animals and humans to infectious disease9. For a nutritious diet, eat a variety of protein foods including seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans/legumes and peas, soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds.

Probiotics & Prebiotics

The microbiome is of great interest lately in the field of immunology and digestion. The microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms that live inside our bodies, with the majority in our intestines. Research suggests that a flourishing network of gut bacteria can help your immune cells differentiate between normal, healthy cells and harmful invader organisms10.

Our diet plays a huge role in determining what kinds of microbes live in our intestines. A high-fiber plant-rich diet with an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes appear to support the growth and maintenance of beneficial microbes.

Prebiotics are nondigestible ingredients in food that induce the growth or activity of beneficial microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. Prebiotics help promote immune cell activity through the creation of short chain fatty acids1.

Probiotic foods contain live helpful bacteria, and prebiotic foods contain fiber and oligosaccharides that feed and maintain healthy colonies of those bacteria. Therefore, a diet containing both may be beneficial to your immune health.

“In a 3-month study in 126 children, those who drank just 2.4 ounces (70 mL) of fermented milk daily had about 20% fewer childhood infectious diseases, compared with a control group11”, demonstrating the effectiveness of adding probiotics to the diet.

Food Sources:

  • Prebiotics:
    • Chicory
    • Garlic
    • Onions
    • Asparagus
    • Bananas
    • Barley
    • Apples
    • Oats
  • Probiotics:
    • Yogurt
    • Kefir
    • Sauerkraut
    • Tempeh
    • Kimchi
    • Miso
    • Kombucha
    • Pickles

Supplements

To further support your immune system, many turn to dietary supplementation. NatureKue has developed two immune boosting products to ensure a strong, resilient immune system. ImmunePlus or ImmuneSupport both provide a propietary blend of scientifically backed herbals to aid the body.

Main Takeaways

While immune health has always been an important topic of concern, the COVID-19 pandemic has recently increased concerns, with many people wondering how they can best support their body for defense. Evidence shows that nutrition plays a criticial role in how effectively our immune system reacts. Both those hoping to prevent COVID and those previously affected by COVID and have long haul symptoms can benefit from proper nutrition.

Eating a balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can help ensure that you are getting necessary macronutrients and micronutrients to fuel your immune system.

Citations

  1. Boston 677 Huntington Avenue, Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. Nutrition and Immunity. The Nutrition Source. Published May 1, 2020. Accessed August 25, 2021. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/nutrition-and-immunity/
  2. Childs CE, Calder PC, Miles EA. Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1933. doi:10.3390/nu11081933
  3. Guillin OM, Vindry C, Ohlmann T, Chavatte L. Selenium, Selenoproteins and Viral Infection. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):E2101. doi:10.3390/nu11092101
  4. Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(12):E1286. doi:10.3390/nu9121286
  5. Support Your Health With Nutrition. Accessed August 25, 2021. https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/preventing-illness/support-your-health-with-nutrition
  6. Ross AC. Vitamin A and retinoic acid in T cell-related immunity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(5):1166S-72S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.034637
  7. Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(11):E1211. doi:10.3390/nu9111211
  8. Lee GY, Han SN. The Role of Vitamin E in Immunity. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1614. doi:10.3390/nu10111614
  9. Li P, Yin Y-L, Li D, Kim SW, Wu G. Amino acids and immune function. Br J Nutr. 2007;98(2):237-252. doi:10.1017/S000711450769936X
  10. 9 Tips to Strengthen Your Immunity Naturally. Healthline. Published April 1, 2020. Accessed August 27, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-boost-immune-health
  11. Corsello G, Carta M, Marinello R, et al. Preventive Effect of Cow’s Milk Fermented with Lactobacillus paracasei CBA L74 on Common Infectious Diseases in Children: A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2017;9(7):E669. doi:10.3390/nu9070669

 

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