Your immune system is all over the body. It’s made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs all working to protect you from germs and microorganisms (bacteria, fungus, viruses) you encounter throughout the day.
It’s always busy. And, for the most part, it does a really good job.
But, your immune system is kind of like the fire extinguisher in your apartment – you walk by it day after day not giving it a second thought… until you need it. One of the little invaders gets passed the defenses and you feel it – you’re sick.
Maybe you’re getting sick too often, maybe you’re around people who are constantly getting sick, or maybe you’re approaching the cold and flu season and you want to act preventatively. Whatever your reason, your immune system is now at the top of your mind and you want to make sure it’s in good shape.
The question is: How do you do it?
Like any question in biology, it’s not a simple answer.
The research is complex because the immune system is complex. It’s not one single entity. You can’t look at an anatomical drawing of a human body and point to one spot and say: “There. That’s the immune system,” like you could the lungs, the heart, or the brain.
It’s a made up of millions of tiny little moving parts – each of which is required to work in harmony with one another to function properly. We’re now learning our diet, the way we exercise, our age, and our stress levels all impact our immune system.
This article is going to focus on your diet and the immune system. More specifically, what you can add to your diet that can boost immune system functioning.
Here are five ingredients scientifically linked to better immune system functioning. Consider incorporating foods that contain these ingredients into your diet or supplementing with them.
- Beta glucans
Beta glucans are naturally occurring sugars found in the cell walls of cereals (e.g. oats and barley), certain types of mushrooms (e.g. reishi, shiitake, maitake), yeasts, seaweed, and algae. You can also find them in lesser amounts in wheat, rye, and sorghum.
You can get 3 grams of beta glucan from 1.5 cups of instant oatmeal. 1 cup of cooked pearly barley will get you about 2.5 grams of beta glucans.
Zinc is a very important mineral in biology. It’s an essential trace element for humans and other animals, plants, and microorganisms. Without it we just wouldn’t be able to function properly – it’s required for over 300 enzymes and 1000 transcription factors.
It’s found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans, seeds, and nuts.
Because zinc is such an important part of normal cell function, deficiencies can lead to disturbances in the number of cells involved in immune system processes and their activity.
- Vitamin C
Probably the most thought of vitamin when it comes to your immune system – for good reason. It’s also known as L-ascorbic acid. It’s a water soluble vitamin naturally present in some foods, added to others, and one of the most widely available supplements.
Vitamin C is considered an essential part of our diet because we, as humans, can’t create ourselves within our bodies.
Vitamin C plays an important role in immune function. It has powerful antioxidant effects and modulates cytokines (small proteins important in cell signaling; immune cells use them to communicate and alter the function of cells surrounding them).
- Bovine colostrum
Colostrum is the premilk fluid produced in the first few days after birth. It’s rich in nutrients, antibodies (proteins used by the immune system to neutralize invaders such as bacteria and viruses), growth factors, and enzymes (e.g. lactoferrin, lysozyme, and lactoperoxidase) critical for the development of the newborn.
Bovine colostrum is produced by cows.
Because colostrum is rich in antibodies and enzymes involved in healthy immune functioning, it has immune-boosting properties.
- Vitamin E
Vitamin E is much like vitamin C in that it occurs naturally in some foods, is added to others, and is available as a dietary supplement. Unlike vitamin C, it is not an essential vitamin because our body can create it.
Vitamin E deficiency is associate with decreased immune system function, an increased risk of infectious diseases, and a higher incidence of developing tumors.
On the flip side, supplementation counteracts decreases in immune function that naturally occur with age, it improves the response of certain immune cells, and it can mitigate the stress placed on immune cells when exposed to oxidative stress that would generally decrease their functionality.
The more we learn about how different aspects of our lifestyle influence the different systems within our body the more avenues we have for improving our overall health and wellness.
Health immune system functioning is critical for optimal body functioning. Adding ingredients such as the ones listed in this article to a daily routine filled with proper nutrition, seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and regular physical activity can help your immune system work at its peak.
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