Our immune system performs a vital role: it protects our body from harmful substances, germs and cell changes that could make us unwell. The system is made up of various organs, cells and proteins.1 Without our immune system, we would have no way to fight harmful things that enter our body from the outside or harmful changes that occur inside our body. Our immune system can be activated by a range of differing things that our body doesn’t recognize as its own. These are called antigens. Examples of antigens include the proteins on the surfaces of bacteria, fungi and viruses. When these antigens attach to special receptors on the immune cells, a whole series of processes are triggered in our bodies.2
What foods boost my immune system?
Our gut is the starting point of our immune system, it is home to an enormous and complex microbial community (microbiota). It has co-evolved with its host (us) over millennia and provides benefits in many ways, including, but not limited to, digestion, production of nutrients, detoxification, protection against pathogens and as stated above, the regulation of our immune system.3 When our gut is healthy, it’s full of good bacteria which helps to strengthen our immune system.
Our dietary habits can strongly influence our gut microbiota composition. Our modern diet, including additives, may reduce gut microbial diversity leading to dysbiosis, alteration of barrier function and permeability, and abnormal activation of immune cells, leading to high incidences of chronic diseases.4
Fruit and vegetables are of obvious importance and are rich in fibre and help increase the good bacteria in our gut. Variety is also essential, so we need to aim to eat a range of different coloured fruit and vegetables daily to boost your immune system. Immune system boosting foods which can also help keep our gut microbiome healthy include plain, unsweetened yoghurt, fermented foods (such as kefir and sauerkraut), legumes and pulses (such as beans, lentils and chickpeas), ginger, garlic and onion.5 Probiotics have also been shown to play a role in our protective inflammatory response and suppress the growth of harmful bacteria in our gut, including raising immunoglobin and T cells that fight off diseases.6
Role of nutrition in immune function
Adequate nutrition can reduce or delay immune-mediated chronic diseases. Nutrition is a major determinant of immune competence as well as other lifestyle related factors such as sleeping habits, stress, sedentary lifestyle, exercise, traveling, pollution, smoking and alcohol.7 To function correctly, our immune system depends on adequate amounts of nutrients (carbohydrates fats and proteins, as well as water and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals). Immune system compromise has been reported in association with under-nutrition and protein deficiency (particularly arginine, glutamine, taurine and sulphur-containing amino acids). Plus, some polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), especially omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) have also influenced immune cell functions.8
Micronutrient deficiency such as iron, selenium, copper, and zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, folic acid, C, D and E are associated with immune dysfunction. Suppressing our immune function by affecting the T-cell mediated immune response and adaptive antibody response, leading to dysregulation of our response.9 Bigvits source and stock a wide variety of micronutrients that support are active immune system. Discussion regarding the benefits of many of these key nutrients are detailed within other blog posts. However, for ease a brief overview of each related to supporting our immune system are summarised here.
Iron deficiency has been indicated to impair host immunity in addition to been reported as a risk factor for the development of recurrent acute respiratory tract infections.10
Low selenium status has been associated with an increased risk of mortality, poor immune function, and cognitive decline, while a higher selenium concentration or selenium supplementation has shown antiviral effects.11
Copper plays an important role in the human immune system. It is involved in the functions of T helper cells, B cells, natural killer cells and macrophages. Dietary copper deficiency has been shown to affect both innate and adaptive immunity.12
Zinc is an important micronutrient for maintaining homeostasis of the immune system, in fact its deficiency has a negative impact on immune functions.13
Vitamin A is known to play an important role in enhancing immune function, and having a regulatory function in both cellular and humoral immune responses.14
The vitamins B6 and B12 belong the B group and have several functions in addition to being co-factors to enzymes involved in energy metabolism they play an important role for our immune systems.15 Furthermore, folate deficiency could lead to many clinical alterations including reduced immune function.16
Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, is one of the most important antioxidants of the water-soluble environment in the body. As such, it plays an essential role in protecting the immune cells from oxidative damage.16
Vitamin D is known to play a role by stimulating maturation of several cells including immune ones. A significant number of healthy individuals have been found to be with decreased levels of vitamin D, particularly at the end of Winter season that coincides with COVID-19 discovery in Winter of 2019.17
Vitamin E has shown impacts on various branches of the immune system from phagocytosis to T cell proliferation and differentiation and antibody production. It plays an important role also during immune reactions by protecting cells and functional components like proteins and fatty acids from damage.18
If you have a specific interest or would like to see a particular product or nutrient reviewed, please email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Educating our customers in respect to the importance of nutrients and the idiosyncrasies between formulas and products is at the heart of what we want to achieve.
This post is meant for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or nutritional advice or act as a substitute for seeking such advice from a qualified health professional. In order to make the blog series easier to read, I have used a conversational tone in many places with personal pronouns, such as “I” and “you.” This is meant only to make it more pleasant to read, and is not meant to imply that the information constitutes any form of advice, whether personal or general.