Your immune system is your body’s defense against viruses and bacteria, so eating foods rich in certain essential vitamins will be key in keeping it working at optimal capacity.
Citrus fruits provide vitamin C while cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, bok choy, kale and cabbage provide essential vitamin A, beta-carotene and the antioxidant sulforaphane for optimal nutrition. Try eating them raw or lightly cooked for optimal results.
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an indispensable water-soluble vitamin that can support immunity. Furthermore, its powerful antioxidant properties reduce free radical damage that could contribute to chronic illnesses.
Many people believe that daily vitamin C intake can help ward off colds and other common illnesses, but taking too much may actually backfire on you. Vitamin C can be helpful, but too much may lead to stomach upset, nausea and diarrhea if overdone. Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of Vitamin C while taking supplements may also provide benefits; just make sure your doctor approves.
As soon as a virus or bacteria invades our bodies, they produce a protein known as neuraminidase that allows it to bypass natural defense mechanisms. Vitamin C helps combat this production of neuraminidase by blocking it, and producing antibodies that recognize foreign substances to neutralize or destroy them.
Vitamin C also plays an essential role in supporting the innate immune system by encouraging white blood cells to work more efficiently. For instance, Vitamin C improves phagocyte functions that capture and digest pathogens as well as epithelial cell immunity against infection from bacteria, viruses or fungi agents.
Vitamin C can be found in various food sources, including cantaloupe, oranges and other citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, tomatoes, broccoli peppers and potatoes. Supplements containing large doses of vitamin C have also been proven to lessen duration and severity of cold symptoms in some studies.
2. Vitamin A
Vitamin A, commonly referred to by its fat-soluble form retinol, is a vital nutrient essential for vision, bone growth, cell division and reproduction, epithelium health (cells that cover internal and external surfaces of the body), immune function support as well as combating infection through T cell activity (3).
Vitamin A plays an essential role in our bodies to facilitate immune tolerance. When we consume foods that contain antigens or microbes not recognized by our immune systems, our gut secretes an immunoglobulin A (IgA) protein to bind with these foreign substances and prevent them from entering our bloodstream (4)
When IgA binds with pathogens, it prompts mast cells to release proteins that trigger inflammation in order to counter them and provide protection from diseases like the common cold, influenza and infections caused by bacteria and viruses. While prolonged inflammation is vital in protecting us against diseases like influenza and infections by bacteria and viruses, prolonged inflammation may damage tissue leading to autoimmunity like Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis.
To maintain optimal immune function, it’s essential that we consume adequate amounts of vitamins A and C. Liver, whole milk dairy products and dark leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli are among the top food sources of vitamin A; in addition to helping bolster immunity, vitamin A acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells against oxidative stress and damage. Vitamin E also acts as a powerful protector; its presence can boost the immune system; look out for nuts, seeds, vegetable oils or dark-green veggies like arugula to keep yourself protected against infections.
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that can help protect against oxidative stress. It can be found in food sources like seeds, nuts, leafy vegetables and vegetable oils; supplements also exist! Our bodies need alpha-tocopherol as its form of Vitamin E so we’re likely to find it in many dietary sources.
Alpha-tocopherol has many protective properties, but perhaps its greatest contribution lies in supporting a healthy immune system. It does this by stimulating the production of T cells – one of the primary types of immune system cells responsible for combatting infection – through supporting growth. Studies have demonstrated how vitamin E deficiency may inhibit their production and function (6).
Studies published in 2018 demonstrated that Vitamin E deficiency impairs immune response by interfering with T cell function and decreasing antibody production (7). According to its authors, Vitamin E protects T cell membranes against oxidative damage caused by oxygen that leads to ferroptosis programmed cell death; additionally it allows T cells to multiply properly while also communicating with other immune system cells.
Vitamin E-rich foods can help you reach the recommended daily intake of 15 milligrams. With its antioxidant benefits and the potential to keep eyes and skin healthy, this nutrient is also an ideal choice for pregnant women as low levels may interfere with fetal development. BetterYou offers many supplements containing high levels of Vitamin E including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options so it’s easier than ever for anyone to increase their consumption of this important nutrient.
Zinc is a trace mineral that assists the body in quickly responding to infection. When immune cells engage in immune cell-based immune protection against bacteria or viruses, zinc acts to block a pathway used by these defense cells to ensure an appropriate immune response doesn’t escalate and cause unnecessary inflammation.
Zinc is essential to the human body, with men needing 11 mg and 8 mg respectively, plus more during pregnancy. Zinc plays an essential role in DNA and protein synthesis, cell division, growth, taste and smell processing, wound healing and immunity – just to name a few functions! Zinc also contributes to healthy cell metabolism: acting as cofactor in over 100 enzymes responsible for essential chemical reactions in the body while being essential to growth during childhood, adolescence and pregnancy.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientists published in March in Blood found that zinc is essential to producing specific types of immune cells and can prompt critical organs to regrow following damage, suggesting its therapeutic use could provide potential solutions for those who undergo blood stem-cell transplantation for treating leukemia or other serious blood diseases. Furthermore, they developed a compound mimicking zinc’s effects in thymus tissue to further aid immune recovery; suggesting it could provide potential solutions in treating patients undergoing stem-cell transplantation as treatment of their diseases.
Sucking on zinc lozenges at the first sign of cold symptoms has been shown to both reduce them and shorten its duration, according to some studies. This may be because zinc can help decrease oxidative stress and protect against excess inflammation; however, taking too much zinc may interfere with iron absorption leading to deficiency issues and combination with medications like Doxycycline or immunosuppressants such as corticosteroids or cyclosporine could further impair absorption into your system.
Selenium is an antioxidative trace mineral with impressive anti-aging effects that helps decrease cell stress and enhance immune function. You’ll find selenium in foods such as brazil nuts, seafood and eggs – as well as in certain whole grains in regions with plentiful soil containing selenium-rich soil – where it has plenty of selenium-rich soil. According to a 2016 study, eating foods rich in selenium may decrease your risk for thyroid diseases like Hashimoto’s Syndrome while encouraging normal thyroid hormone production while decreasing inflammation.
One of the benefits of selenium is its ability to enhance white blood cell responses and protect against oxidative damage, while simultaneously increasing T-cell activity – an immune system cell that targets viruses and intracellular bacteria. Furthermore, selenium has also been known to increase both antigen-presenting cells involved in an immune response as well as their phagocytic activity.
Studies suggest that an inadequate supply of selenium could contribute to various health problems, from cognitive decline and depression to autoimmune conditions like thyroid disease and cancer. Studies have demonstrated that people with low levels of selenium tend to experience an increased rate of thyroid cancer and gastrointestinal illnesses due to reduced immunity or ineffective immune response due to selenium deficiency. Deficits in this nutrient have been shown to inhibit the body’s ability to kill cancerous cells. Furthermore, studies have revealed it can reduce inflammatory markers associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and even serve as an “zeitgeber,” helping your internal clock sync up with natural 24-hour light/dark cycles of your environment.