The human immune system is comprised of organs and biological processes designed to identify pathogens like viruses, tumour cells and toxins.
Think of the immune system as a detective. It detects foreign bodies and kills them with an appropriate immune response.
Pathogens like the novel coronavirus COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 evolve, so the immune system must also evolve.
This requires the immune system to be healthy. One of the best ways to keep your immune system in top form is by eating a healthy diet. Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants all help to boost the immune system to keep it in fighting shape.
Vitamin C is one of the most important immune system nutrients.
Several studies have shown it increases white blood cell production. These are the cells on the front lines of fighting infections. Vitamin C not only supports their production it also works as an antioxidant to keep them healthy.
The human body neither produces nor stores vitamin C, so diet is the only source and it's important to get a healthy daily supply.
Citrus fruits like oranges are well known for their vitamin C content. A great way to get a good start to the day is to juice half a lemon and drink it with a warm glass of water before eating in the morning.
Other fruits like kiwis and papayas are also rich in vitamin C, as are vegetables like bell peppers and broccoli. You can even grow broccoli sprouts easily and inexpensively in a jar in your cupboard.
Vegetables like spinach and broccoli are not only power-packed with vitamin C, but they also have other vitamins like A and E and antioxidants like beta-carotene that feed the immune system. Remember that the raw form is best. Cooking can sometimes deplete the bioavailability of these vitamins and nutrients.
When you don't have access to a good source of fruit and vegetables Vitamin C can be consumed as a supplement.
Vitamin E is another very important immune system nutrient. It is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it needs fat to be absorbed properly.
Sure, you can take fish oil and vitamin E supplements, but did you know that a half-cup of almonds has a full daily allowance of vitamin E?
Other Vitamin-E rich foods are avocados and raw spinach.
Turmeric has one of the highest antioxidant profiles among herbs. It has natural anti-inflammatory properties from compounds known as curcuminoids, turmerones and turmerosacharides.
These actives do not suppress the immune system like over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Ginger contains gingerol; this gives ginger its familiar kick but is also the agent that soothes a soothes your digestive lining and throat. Ginger has antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Similar to Vitamin C it is good to take when you are already sick and has an equal antioxidant effect. A common remedy is lemon and ginger tea to fight off a cold.
Like turmeric, garlic has been used for centuries as a medicine. Many studies have shown that it reduces heart disease risk and enhances the immune system’s function.
In particular, garlic has been shown to fight colds and the flu. It contains allicin as an active ingredient. Allicin is a fairly unstable compound and when it is crushed or chewed, it converts to sulphur-containing compounds that kill germs and boost the response of certain types of white blood cells, particularly when they encounter viruses.
Before cooking with garlic crush or chop the clove and then leave for a few minutes before cooking so the beneficial compounds have time to increase.
If you don't enjoy the taste of garlic in your meals or you don't feel you eat enough of it then you can try swallowing chopped garlic just like you would a capsule.
Chop a clove into small pieces and then leave to sit for 5 minutes. The smaller you chop the pieces the better. Then take a small pinch at a time and swallow with a glass of water.
Garlic has a very strong taste so this is a great way of taking a daily dose of fresh raw garlic without tasting it. You could even wash it down with some ginger and lemon tea!
Most people don’t really think of yoghurt as an immune food, but yoghurt contains live cultures that can strengthen the immune system. Yoghurts also contain vitamin D, which is another immune booster.
Many people don’t realize that most of the body’s immune cells are in the intestines, so consuming gut-boosting foods like yoghurt can really help keep the immune system in top-notch condition.
When choosing yoghurt its important to pay close attention to the sugar content and also make sure it has 'Live' or 'Active Cultures' listed on the label.
Strengthen Your Immune System
Many factors determine our ability to ward off disease and illnesses. Things like our like genetics are beyond our control, but we can control what we eat and most aspects of our lifestyle.
Stress and the way we react to it has a profound effect on the immune system. We can’t always change the stressors, but we can change the way we react.
Just remember that ongoing stress makes a person much more susceptible to illness and disease. The fight or flight hormone cortisol is activated constantly, and over time that response severely depresses the immune system.
A nutritious diet packed with nutrients like vitamin C, as well as vitamins A and E, antioxidants and other important compounds can strengthen your immune system and help fight off pathogens like flu, the common cold and maybe even the novel coronavirus.
Eating a healthy diet has other health benefits too, so start looking for ways you can include more immune-boosting foods in your daily diet. Your body will thank you for it!