The main functions of body’s immune system are
- Protecting against infection
- Clearing damaged tissues, and
- Providing surveillance of potential malignant growth
Meanwhile, your immune system also has to maintain “tolerance” – knowing to ignore the tissues of your own body. Without tolerance you can develop an autoimmune disease such as lupus, thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, or others.
People vary widely in the vigor of their immune function. Some of the reasons for this variability (such as your genetic makeup) are largely out of your control. But there are other potent factors that you can control – your diet and lifestyle, for instance.
Elderly people, those with ongoing health challenges, and people regularly taking prescription drugs can find that their immune systems are particularly at risk.
Improving nutrition as a way to boost your immune function has been studied for decades.
To ensure an optimal immune system, overt nutritional deficiency has to be corrected. But the role of nutrients goes beyond the basics. Mounting evidence suggests that for certain nutrients, increased intake above currently recommended levels may help optimize immune function and bolster your defense against disease.
Among the most thoroughly studied nutritional influencers on immune function are:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Green tea
Vitamin D, like a hormone, regulates many of your body’s internal processes. And vitamin D is one of the more common nutrient deficiencies. Most immune cells have vitamin D receptors on their surface. Vitamin D stimulates your immune cells to proliferate, become more active, and produce chemicals that fight off invaders. Vitamin D also enhances communication between the different operating components of your immune system. That helps coordinate the fight against invaders, and it also helps enhance tolerance of your own bodily tissues.
If you’re deficient in vitamin E, your immune cells will be depleted. Vitamin E also has other regulatory roles in immune function.
Zinc deficiency is estimated to affect up to 30% around the world. Even in the United States, many may have questionable zinc status, including young children, the elderly and those who eat lots of processed foods.
Zinc is a co-factor in numerous of the body’s internal chemical processes and has a role in immune defense and immune tolerance. A number of research studies have shown that those taking zinc supplements had a reduced incidence of respiratory infection
Omega-3 fatty acids
These polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in fish and other sea creatures) have a strong anti-inflammatory effect, and thus have a potent influence on conditions that include chronic inflammation, such as asthma, irritable bowel disease, auto-immune disorders and the like.
A big part of your immune system lives in the inner lining of your intestinal tract. That’s where your body first encounters many invading microorganisms.
Probiotics – live bacteria that normally make their home in the human gut – balance the pro-inflammatory versus anti-inflammatory function of the intestinal lining. Consuming probiotics may make you more resistant to infection and might moderate the severity of an allergic reaction.
Some of the chemical components of green tea have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect, and thus might be effective in calming autoimmune disease.
Supplements versus dietary sources
In general, food sources of nutrients are considered superior to supplements, since in foods, the relevant nutrients come embedded in a matrix of other useful nutritional components.
Here are some of the top dietary sources of these pro-immune system nutrients:
Vitamin D – sunlight, of course, but also fatty fish, egg yolks
Vitamin E – nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables
Zinc – shellfish, meat, poultry
Omega 3 fatty acids – fish
Probiotics – yogurt, pickles, cider vinegar, kombucha, kimchi
Green tea – green tea, of course!
But supplements have something to say for themselves, too. After all, many people have deficiencies in one or more of these nutrients, and sometimes an individual needs extra – beyond a normal dietary allowance.
Looking for a reliable source of quality supplements from top manufacturers?
I have set up an online dispensary with the nutrition company Wellevate. Sign on with them online and you can browse their products. Or contact me and I can put together a recommended supplement program tailored to your individual needs.