Nutrition and Immunity

Have you ever thought about how the food we eat can support our immune system?

I am definitely not talking about “boosting” our immunity. We don’t want a boosted immune system; this would just cause havoc within the body.

In addition to the body actually needing nutrients to support a balanced immune system, an infection increases the body’s requirements when it comes to food. So, if you think about when you or one of your patients has an infection, the basal metabolic rate actually increases. That’s the energy required for the body to remain at rest. This means that calorie requirements increase as do protein requirements. Protein can be found in foods like fish, meat, eggs, cheese, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Nutrient deficiencies can significantly impair one’s ability to resistant infection. So, let’s talk about the micronutrients that are going to be key to a healthy immune system.

The first micronutrient is zinc which is absolutely key for immune cell proliferation and differentiation in innate and acquired immunity. Low zinc levels can really affect thymic development and T cell function. You can find zinc in everyday foods like meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, just about all these high protein foods.
You may have also heard about zinc supplementation for the immune system. The last thing I want you to be thinking about is supplementing with zinc long-term, because then we can get copper imbalances in the body which is definitely not something we want. However, there is evidence out there to support zinc supplementation, specifically lozenges, to help support with an infection and its symptoms. You might consider taking a zinc lozenge every day until you get better if you do have an infection, but ensure you are not taking this long term.

Vitamin A:
Vitamin A is so important to support epithelial cells that form the physical barrier between pathogens. A deficiency in vitamin A can weaken this barrier and put you at an increased risk of infection. Vitamin A also binds to receptors in the immune system to enhance development of some immune cells. Vitamin A can be found in goats’ cheese, eggs, spinach and tuna and also in brightly coloured veggies, specifically orange ones like carrots and butternut squash. What we don’t want to be doing in supplementing with vitamin A because it is a fat-soluble vitamin and in high levels it can be toxic to the body especially if you are thinking about pregnancy.

Vitamin C:
We cannot talk about the immune system without touching on vitamin C. This potent antioxidant has a lot to do with the immune system and keeping it healthy. What it actually does is support with the innate and adaptive immune system to support the cells fight of infection specifically increase B-cell and T-cell production.
You can get vitamin C from many different foods like, berries, oranges or the humble red pepper. This is definitely a nutrient you want to think about when it comes to your immune health.

But what’s more, we can actually use vitamin C in higher doses once we are sick to help reduce symptoms and hopefully the duration of the illness as well.
But remember, the body can only really absorb a very small amount of vitamin C each day.
You don’t need to be taking this every day in a supplement form, but only when you are sick and until the end of the illness.

When we are thinking about nutrients for the immune system healthy as possible, we can’t just think about micronutrients because we eat food, and not nutrients!
So, when thinking about our overall dietary pattern, making sure we’re eating enough of the right foods with as little exclusions as possible, to make sure you don’t have any nutrient deficiencies which may interplay with an impaired immune system.

Apart from diet, we can’t talk about immune health of the body without thinking about stress and sleep.

If you are sleep deprived, this will compromise the health of your immune system. Sleep is a time for rest and repair of the body. Specifically, when thinking about the immune system, we want to ensure that we have optimum production of T-cells by our body, that will help us fight off infection. We also need to consider stress management, as stress can also weaken the immune system.

We can’t just think about the food we are consuming when thinking about a healthy immune system, it needs to be the whole picture!