One might see people buying packs of nutritional supplementary tablets, and eat special foods especially when the flu season is just around the corner. All of this is done in the bid to enhance the strength and efficiency of the immunity system. Certain vitamins work like magic in strengthening the immune system. Vitamin C-rich foods such as lemon, orange and other citrus fruits, tea with honey and steaming hot chicken soup are some food items that can boost your immune system.
But this is not as easy as many think it to be. The design of the immune system is complicated in its own way, and is influenced by factors beyond diet, and definitely not by anyone specific food or nutrient. However, this doesn’t mean that a well-balanced diet which is loaded with nutrients and a range of minerals, along with proper sleep and exercises among other healthy lifestyle factors, is what primes the body to fight off diseases and infection.
Before we jump in deeper, let us lay the foundation.
What Is The Immune System?
The human body, on a daily basis, is bombarded and exposed to potentially harmful microbes. If these were to reach into our system, the damage it could do is enough to make you look the other way in disgust. The immune system is the line of defense, which comprises a network of an intricate stage of pathways in the body, which ultimately protects you from these harmful microbes, as well as a host of other diseases.
The immune system identifies the foreign invader, be it parasites, viruses, or bacteria. Once it zeros in on the invaders it takes immediate action to neutralize them. Humans possess two types of immunity: Adaptive and innate immunity.
Adaptive or acquired immunity is the immunity wherein the system recognizes the pathogen. This is regulated by the cells and the organs of the body such as the spleen, lymph nodes, bone marrow and the thymus. When a foreign body enters the body, the cells and organs often create antibodies that then multiply to form many things, including different types of white blood cells. These are ‘specific’ to the harmful intruder and attack them. The immune system remembers and will attack them if they were to enter again, quickly destroying it.
Innate immunity is the first line of defense that prevents the pathogens from entering the body by means of a protective barrier. These include skin, mucus, stomach acids and enzymes in the sweat and tears that help to create anti-bacterial compounds.
Do Immunity-Boosting Foods Exist? What About Immunity Destroying Foods?
There have been a few nutrients and vitamins that have been shown to be critical for the healthy growth and function of the immune response; these include selenium, protein, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Iron among others. All of these nutrients are present in plant-based foods.
However at the opposite end of the spectrum, there are foods that weaken and beat down the immunity system; these include ultra-processed foods, refined sugars and red meat. These severely disturb the healthy gut microbes and the intestinal micro-organisms which can create a range of health ailments such as chronic inflammation of the gut, and the associated suppressed immunity.
Growing The Metropolis In Your Gut
The microbes make up close to trillions in number, and these live in the intestine. The microbes play a key role in contributing to the strength of the immune response. The diet plays a large role in deciding the kinds of microbes that grown and thrive in the intestines. A diet that is rich in high-fiber like a diet which is loaded with fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains appears to be supportive of the well-being and growth of ‘good’ bacteria.
Certain helpful microbes help in breaking down the fibers into short-chain fatty acids, which stimulate immune cell activity. These fibers are called prebiotics, because of how they feed the bacteria. A plant-based diet that consists of both prebiotic and probiotic foods can be beneficial in helping re-build the immune system.
Here are some examples of some probiotic and prebiotic foods that you can add:
These include the likes of Kombucha tea, kimchi, fermented vegetables, non-dairy yogurt with live active culture and miso to name a few.
These include Leeks, asparagus, artichokes, onions, garlic, bananas and seaweed. The better rule to follow would be to ingest as many fruits, whole grains, vegetables and beans for dietary prebiotic.
Eating a good quality plant-based diet can help in beating the deficiencies. In situations where you cannot take in a variety of nutrient-rich foods, you can meet the demand by getting vitamin and mineral supplements- these can help to fill in the nutritional gaps. Staying clear of animal meats and its products is the key to strengthening your immune system. Years and years of ‘gout abuse’ that you have been dolling out by your careless eating habits, can be reversed by sticking to plant produce.