What is the immune system?
The immune system in our body plays a crucial role in preventing us from harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Over the past decades, research has demonstrated that nutrition plays a critical role in the development and maintenance of the immune system. As per a study, the body is considered a vehicle, and nutrition is the fuel required to run this vehicle. As the body needs the energy to function, similarly, various processes in our body request nutrients to work. Nutrition provides minerals and vitamins which cannot be produced within the body and are essential for survival. The immune system of our body is a complex structure present in our body. It is the natural defense system of the body that protects us from harmful infections.
Functional foods and immunity
In this era, where health is being regarded as prime importance in our lives, research is being conducted on the role of functional foods for boosting immunity. What are functional foods? Functional foods are foods that have a potentially positive impact on health beyond basic nutrition. Proponents of functional foods say they encourage optimum health and help reduce the risk of disease. The use of a functional food diet as a preventive medicine has been subject to much research over the last two decades. Research has also demonstrated the use of some functional foods in the enhancement of the immune system of the body. [1,2]
Immune system booster foods
Nowadays, immunity has gained significant importance in the world. As the world is evolving, bacteria and viruses are also evolving and becoming stronger and more resistant to traditional medications. Hence, it is important to boost the immune system of the body to fight these infectious agents. Environmental factors, stress, lack of sleep, etc. have a negative impact on the immune system of an individual, making them more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections. Hence, it is essential to include some of the natural immunity-boosting foods like functional foods and help our body to ward off any of these harmful infectious agents.
As per a study, the immunity of two groups of individuals was examined. One group was provided with functional foods, which boosted immunity while the other group was kept on a standard diet. Results showed that the immunity of the group consuming immune system boosting foods was significantly higher than that of the standard diet group. Vitamins, minerals, probiotics are some of the crucial food elements responsible for enhancing the immune system. The exact mechanisms behind some of their benefits are not precise. Research is in progress to uncover the beneficial relationship between them and the immune system. Research indicates these types of functional foods which are essential for boosting the immune system.
⮚ Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamin C, E, zinc, selenium are the key elements that have a robust immune system enhancing effect. All these elements are potent antioxidants. They scavenge and neutralize free radicals and improve the overall anti-inflammatory aspect of a cell. Stopping inflammation of the intestinal lining is the key to enhancing immunity. Absorption of nutrients is impaired if the intestinal lining is inflamed.
Foods containing probiotic organisms are found to enhance the immune system. In some studies, they are found to interact with immune system cells and activate the immune system. They also reduce gut inflammation, which helps in the efficient absorption of key nutrients present in the diet. [3,4,5,6]
Best foods for the immune system
As per research studies, these are some of the functional foods which are amongst the best foods for the immune system:
1. Garlic: Garlic contains sulfur-like chemical compounds like allicin, arginine, and selenium. Studies suggest that these compounds may be responsible for boosting the immune system. One study showed that daily consumption of garlic increased the subject’s resistance to common cold significantly and also resulted in a shorter duration of symptoms for those who got affected by the cold.
2. Tea: Both black and green tea increases resistance to illness and is immune-boosting foods. They contain amino acids like L-theanine, which enhance the function of T-lymphocytes. They even contain antioxidants which help in combating various bacteria and viruses in the body.
3. Dairy products: Dairy products contain various enzymes, proteins, and vitamins, which aid in the strengthening of the immune system. Yogurt is considered to be an excellent food as it contains probiotics that help fight many diseases.
4. Mushrooms: Mushrooms are high in selenium and vitamins, which are essential for the efficient performance of the immune system.
5. Citrus fruits: Citrus fruits contain healthy amounts of vitamin C, which is essential in boosting the immune system. Our body does not inherently produce or store vitamin C; hence, we are dependent on our diet for daily need of vitamin C in our body. Citrus fruits include oranges, lemon, grapefruit, etc.
6. Broccoli: It is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. It consists of various essential minerals like zinc, calcium, etc. and antioxidants making it a superfood to enhance the immune system of an individual.
7. Ginger: Ginger contains a chemical compound known as gingerol, which possesses anti-inflammatory properties. It possesses many other health benefits like reduction in chronic pain, cholesterol-lowering properties, and also enhances the immune system.
8. Turmeric: Turmeric contains a chemical called curcumin that is responsible for the immune-enhancing effect. It also has many other beneficial effects on health, which include its use in rheumatoid arthritis.
9. Poultry: Poultry like chicken and turkey are loaded with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and proteins, which are essential for the body. The vitamins and minerals present in poultry are vital as they are part of many critical reactions that happen within the body. It also assists in the formation of new and healthy red blood cells and even enhances the immune system. Whenever someone is sick, chicken soup is one of the best remedies to improve the symptoms and fight against the disease.
10. Sunflower seeds:
Sunflower seeds are full of healthy nutrients, which include essential minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, etc. and vitamins. They also contain high amounts of antioxidants, which help in boosting the immune system and fighting off against harmful infections. [7,8,9,10,11]
Foods that lower immunity
To help your immune-boosting foods do their job, you also want to refrain from the following bad guys:
– Sugary drinks & snacks: Consuming too much sugar reduces immune system cells that attack bacteria. This effect lasts for at least a couple of hours after the high sugary intake.
– Fast food: Regularly eating fast food may actually reprogram the way your immune system reacts to possible problems, placing it in a prolonged state of high alert.
– Alcohol: Alcohol has a few effects in your immune system you could do without, such as reducing the purpose of your macrophages (the cells which break down foreign invaders). This interferes with your immunoglobulin and cytokine levels and impairs the production of T cells and B cells, each of which acts as first responders in the body.
– Caffeine: Caffeine includes all the unpleasant side effects of boosted cortisol levels. Cortisol (a hormone published in response to stress) does a number on your metabolism and disposition, and it can also reduce your immune function in the event you frequently have high levels of it flowing through your body.
– Foods with MSG: Research indicates that foods containing MSG can cause undesirable changes to your thymus and spleen, both of which are key players on your immune function.
– Diet soda: Diet soda is loaded with artificial ingredients, such as sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose, that reduce your immune functions.
– Products containing gluten: A protein naturally found in grains like barley and wheat, gluten is extremely hard for the human body to digest. As it winds its way in your system, it triggers the production of a protein known as zonulin, which breaks down the tissues of your intestinal walls. This provides toxins, food particles, and other dangerous substances free rein to get into your bloodstream, often causing an unwanted immune response
– Refined oils: Regrettably, most oils are refined, meaning they’ve been produced in a manner that strips out the nutrients and mutates the organic molecular structure of the oil. Eating food cooked in processed oils can place plenty of strain on your system, resulting in the creation of free radicals that harm your delicate tissues and put your body through bouts of temporary inflammation.
Sleep and recharge your immune system
Sleep: Our bodies need a good night’s sleep to get some much-needed rest and recharge our “batteries.” Without the right amount of sleep, we increase our risk of developing serious health problems such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity. Insufficient sleep has also been linked to suppressed immune function. One research found that people who sleep fewer than five hours a night are more likely to have recently suffered a recent chilly compared to those who sleep longer.
Our immune system helps us defend against harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We have to keep it healthy and efficient, which helps it perform effectively against foreign invaders. Maximizing the health of the immune system is easy when an individual knows which foods to eat. Eating right and obtaining appropriate nutrition is one of the basic things which can be done to help your body’s defense system work efficiently against harmful infections.