The temperatures are cooling, the leaves are changing colors and the kids are coming home from school with the sniffles and first colds of the season. Is there anything to do to make you and your family less susceptible to these nasty autumn and winter germs? We know some basic strategies are to eat well, exercise, wash hands, get adequate sleep and reduce stress. Let’s delve into the specifics of the important nutrients that enhance our immune systems to give us maximum fighting ability against these bacteria and viruses.
The first line of defense our bodies employ is a barrier, namely our skin and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The cells lining the GI tract are the same type of cells as found on our skin. The GI tract cell lining has 150 times more surface area than our skin. Did you know that our GI tract makes up about 70% of our immune system since it is the area that comes in contact with the largest quantity of foreign molecules and organisms in the body? Each morsel you put in your mouth must be analyzed for any potentially dangerous components. In fact, we are exposed to 1000s of germs every single day!
Our immune systems provide the next stage for the attack of any outside invaders that could harm us. The cells of the immune system, primarily T cells and B cells, are continually coursing through our blood and lymph searching for these organisms to neutralize and ultimately destroy.
We can augment our immunity by consuming macro- and micronutrients that will support these cells. First, we want to eat protein-rich foods. Deficiencies in protein consumption, even by just 25%, have been shown to reduce the number and function of immune cells and antibodies. Amino acids are the by-products of protein breakdown and the proper balance of amino acids is necessary to ensure a healthy immune response. Next, a deficiency of essential fatty acids, especially omega 3 fatty acids, leads to poorer immune system function. Research has shown that omega 3 fatty acids enhance B cell functioning and are anti-inflammatory in nature. The omega 3s also support the GI cells. Generally, the omega 6 fats are inflammatory. It is best to consume more omega 3s to obtain a better omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, ideally 2 or 3 to 1. For more about fats, see my article http://www.bettereatingcoach.com/7313-fearful-fats.html.
There are a number of micronutrients that are important to our overall immune health.
- Vitamin C seems to work by decreasing the length of time and severity of infections by supporting the functioning of our T cells. Vitamin C is also an important antioxidant that helps to quench free radicals and reduce inflammation. Good sources of vitamin C are red bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kiwi, citrus and papaya.
- Vitamin A supports the epithelial cells of the skin, GI tract and lungs, which are mainly the barrier cells written about above. Vitamin A is also important in the production of the protective mucous in the digestive tract. Vitamin A assists in antibody function and T cell activity. Vitamin A-rich foods include carrots, sweet potatoes, parsley, kale, spinach and collard greens.
- B vitamins are supportive of the immune system. B2, along with other B vitamins, may enhance our resistance to bacterial infections. B5 is important to antibody production. B6 assists with T cell functioning. Folic acid deficiency results in a decrease in T cells. Finally B12 supports the neutralization process to destroy germs. Typically B vitamins are found in most whole grains, many vegetables and fruits. However, not all foods contain all the types of B vitamins. B12, for example, is primarily obtained only from animal products. Vegetarians need to supplement with B12 since they cannot obtain this vitamin from their food consumption.
- Vitamin E plays a role in increasing antibody response. It is also an antioxidant that works with vitamin C synergistically. Vitamin E is a component to healthy cell membranes allowing for healthier cellular mechanics. Good sources are sunflower seeds, almonds and spinach.
- Zinc is essential for our immunity. Deficiencies in zinc result in our lowered T cell functionality. Sources of zinc include grass fed beef, lamb, oysters, wheat germ, spinach and pumpkin seeds.
- Iron is needed for improved antibody responses and enhanced T cell functioning. Food sources are grass fed beef, egg yolks, dark leafy green veggies, wild mushrooms and turkey.
- Copper works with the immune system by helping fight infections at the T cell level. Copper and zinc need to be kept in balance so it is best to obtain the balanced levels from foods instead of supplements. Copper-rich foods include sesame seeds, cashews, soybeans, barley and sunflower seeds.
- Selenium, another antioxidant, is anti-inflammatory in nature. Good sources are Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, fish, meat, wild mushrooms and eggs.
Antioxidants are nature’s way to keep us healthy. They are found in vegetables and fruit and support us by neutralizing free radicals formed from our normal metabolism and environmental toxins. These compounds help prevent illness and disease. The more colorful the produce, the more antioxidant potential it has. For more about antioxidants, see my article http://www.bettereatingcoach.com/61913-nectarine-nutrition.html.
If our nutrition is poor, the result may be impaired immunity resulting in increased infections and complications. So eat the seasonal produce since they may have up to three times the amount of nutrients when grown in season and are not subject to the losses incurred during transit. For a wonderful immune supporting soup, try this soup http://www.bettereatingcoach.com/recipe-winter-2013.html. Here’s to a healthy fall season.
© Geri Wohl, CNC