Evidently it is almost Spring…. although the weather doesn’t seem to agree quite yet and with the warm, wet winter that we’ve had, there still seem to be thousands of bugs around causing everything from coughs and colds to full blown flu. So I thought it might be helpful to think of our immune system and which foods and nutrients might help to fight those viruses and bacteria.
Our immune system is incredibly complex and clever. It has the ability to identify bacteria, viruses and pathogens, it is able to mount an attack to protect us and then it educates itself to respond to these threats more quickly the next time we encounter them. To do all of this the immune system needs a wealth of nutrients which all need to come from the food we eat.
To ensure that you are getting the best nutrients to support your immune system, chose as natural and unprocessed a diet as possible. Reduce sugar and artificial sweeteners and ensure that you eat plenty of different colour vegetables and fruit. Include nuts and seeds in the diet (if no nut allergy) and make sure that you have adequate amounts of fibre to protect our ‘good’ gut bacteria. Onions, Garlic and Ginger have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties so add them to your winter diet and stay well hydrated which helps to flush out those bugs.
Below are the reasons why this way of eating can help:
One of the vitamins needed by the immune system is Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, chilli and bell peppers, broccoli, sprouts and green leafy vegetables. It is thought to be the master immune boosting vitamin. It helps the immune system to mature and improves the performance of antibodies. It has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and can destroy toxins produced by bacteria. It also stimulates the immune system to produce interferon which boosts immunity
Vitamin A found in yellow and orange fruit and vegetables and liver helps maintain the integrity of the digestive tract, lungs and cell membranes. This helps prevent the invaders entering in the first place. Vitamin A also provides resistance to infections and is thought to help modulate allergies.
Vitamin E found in Olive Oil, avocadoes, nuts, seeds and wheatgerm, safeguards our cell membranes and is anti-oxidant, so protects against free radicals. It is thought to improve immune function particularly in the elderly and it helps our B and T cells function properly
B vitamins found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, green leafy veg, shellfish and beef are needed for many immune functions. B6 is needed for white blood cell response and the health of the Thymus gland and without B12 white blood cells cannot mature and grow. It’s worth noting that B vitamins can be particularly low in teenage girls who diet or eat a typically refined junk food diet.
Zinc found in Brazil nuts, Oysters, pumpkin and sesame seeds, oats, beef, lamb, liver and dark chocolate is needed for the immune system to function properly. It protects against colds, flu and other infections and is critical for B & T cell function.
Vitamin D is an incredibly important nutrient for the immune system but there are few good food sources, however fortified cereals and dairy products, oily fish such as salmon and trout, and eggs do contain some. Vitamin D is immune modulating and helps ‘prime’ T cells. It increases antimicrobial proteins in the immune system and adequate levels of this nutrient is thought to reduce the incidence of flu, coughs, the common cold and upper respiratory tract infection. About 75% of the UK population are thought to be low in Vitamin D, so if you get frequent coughs and colds or can’t shift the ones you do get, it might be worth getting your levels checked by your GP or Nutritional Therapist.
On the flip side, Sugar is known to negatively impact our immune systems by inhibiting phagocytes and reducing white blood cell activity. The effect can last for up to 5 hours after consuming a sugary food. Equally, junk food & processed diets can stop the immune system working properly because they are low in the vitamin and minerals that the immune system needs to function well and refined carbohydrates are turned to glucose quickly and so have the same effect as sugar. Junk food may also contain chemicals and additives which weaken the immune system and Artificial sweeteners which are thought to suppress the thymus gland.
Blog written for Leg Up For Talent. www.legupfortalent.com