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Most people try to stay as healthy as possible. While you can’t control your own immune system, one can take simple steps to boost your immune system. In fact, it is quite easy as well as affordable to improve a person’s immune system by exploring how to live a healthy lifestyle which, is the best defence. The first step is to determine which nutrients are right for that persons’ unique needs. It is also important to take a long-term approach, with vitamins and supplements, read up on the relevant scientific research regarding the role of exercise and relaxation.

 

The Immune System

Our immune system is essential for our survival. The immune system consists of a vast network of cells and tissues that are constantly on the lookout for invaders, and once an enemy is spotted, a complex attack is organised. The immune system is spread throughout the body and involves many types of cells, organs, proteins, and tissues. Crucially, it can distinguish our tissue from foreign tissue — self from non-self. Dead and faulty cells are also recognised and cleared away by the immune system. If the immune system encounters a pathogen, for instance, a bacterium, virus, or parasite, it mounts a so-called immune response (Murrell: 2018. Medical News Today).

Inadequate nutrition disproportionately affects people who lack access to nourishing food due to economic factors or rely too heavily on overly-processed foods. These circumstances could lead to a deficiency in one or more of the vitamins and minerals required for a healthy immune system. If a persons’ diet does not provide adequate levels of any the following vitamins and minerals, the persons’ immune system may not be operating at its best.

 

The best vitamins to boost the immune system

Vitamin B

Vitamin C

Vitamin D

Vitamin E

Folic acid

Iron

Selenium

Zinc

 

The simplest way to obtain large amounts of these vitamins and minerals, with the exception of vitamin D, is to eat a diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables. Adults should consume no less than 2½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day. However, depending on factors including your age, size, sex, and activity levels, the suggested amount could be even greater. To ensure that a person taking in enough vitamin D, he or she has to ensure that he or she is getting regular exposure to sunlight or eating foods rich in vitamin D like fish, eggs, dairy, or fortified foods (McGrane: 2020).

Vitamin A plays an important role in maintaining the mucus barriers in the eyes, lungs, and gut, which help capture and get rid of potentially harmful pathogens.  It’s also needed for the production of white blood cells called leukocytes, which are the primary cells of the immune system.

Top food sources:

  • Eggs
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Bell peppers
  • Cantaloupe
  • Mangos
  • Milk
  • Ricotta cheese

Vitamin C – when one thinks of nutrients that are important for your immune system, chances are that vitamin C is one of the first ones that come to mind. Vitamin C has many essential roles in the immune system, which is why it’s important to get the recommended 75-95 mg of vitamin C per day.

Top food sources:

  • Citrus fruits (like oranges)
  • Bell peppers
  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Kiwi
  • Leafy greens
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Guava
  • Papaya

Vitamin D – helps to regulate our immune system and is being studied as being potentially protective against diseases like the flu.

Top food sources: 

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Canned tuna
  • Egg yolks
  • Mushrooms
  • Fortified beverages, including orange juice and milk
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

Unlike other nutrients on this list, vitamin D can be difficult to get enough of from diet alone. And while the body can make vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, it’s worth talking to the doctor about potentially taking a vitamin D supplement to ensure that a person is meeting your body’s needs.

Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant that may specifically benefit the immune system by enhancing the activity of cells within the immune system.

Top food sources: 

  • Seeds, especially sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • Nuts, especially almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Salmon
  • Avocado
  • Sweet potato
  • Bell peppers
  • Mango

Iron’s main function is to help carry oxygen to cells; however, it’s also involved in the production and growth of proteins and cells that are needed for a healthy immune system.

Top food sources: 

  • Shellfish
  • Spinach
  • Legumes, like lentils and beans
  • Red meat
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Turkey
  • Broccoli
  • Tofu
  • Fish

Omega-3 fatty acids – fats that our bodies can’t make themselves, so we have to get them through our diet. The primary role of omega-3s is to reduce inflammation, but they’ve also been shown to help regulate the immune system.

Top food sources: 

  • Fatty fish, like salmon and sardines
  • Sea algae
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Walnuts

Probiotics – the intestines contain nearly 70% of the cells that make up the immune system. Therefore, it’s no surprise that good gut health is linked with a stronger immune system. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are needed for gut health and have been shown to be beneficial for the health of a persons’ gut. In fact, probiotics have been shown not only to help protect against getting sick, but may also help a person getting better faster if a person does happen to catch a cold.

Top food sources: 

  • Yoghurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Miso

Protein – has many important roles when it comes to the immune system, including providing the building blocks for antibodies, which fight off bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders.

Top food sources: 

  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Meat, such as beef and pork
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Legumes
  • Greek yoghurt

Selenium – another antioxidant that’s been shown to improve immune cell function and enhance the overall immune response.

Top food sources: 

  • Oysters
  • Brazil nuts
  • Fish, especially halibut, tuna, and sardines
  • Eggs
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Chicken
  • Shiitake mushrooms

Zinc – the second most abundant-mineral in your body and is present in every cell. And if that’s not impressive enough, zinc is needed for the activity of over 300 enzymes and is essential for the growth and function of immune cells.

Top food sources: 

  • Oysters
  • Crab and lobster
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Legumes, especially chickpeas and beans
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Cashews
  • Yoghurt
  • Oatmeal
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Chicken

The bottom line

An overall healthy, varied diet is key to providing your body with the nutrition it needs to support a strong immune system. And certain nutrients are especially important, including vitamins A, C, D, and E, iron, omega-3, probiotics, protein, selenium, and zinc.  Of course, diet is just one piece of the picture. Other ways to keep yourself healthy include:

Healthy habits are the foundation of long-term wellness

When selecting the right vitamins and supplements for your individual needs, it is important to remember their proper role within a balanced lifestyle. Vitamins and supplements can certainly give your immunity a boost, but they can’t make up for an unhealthy lifestyle. If you find yourself regularly fighting illness, consider the following areas of your life, in addition to pursuing vitamins and supplements:

1. Wash your hands frequently

The best way to reduce the spread of germs is to wash your hands throughout the day, with soap and for at least 20 seconds. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a comprehensive guide on when and how to wash your hands effectively.

2. Eat healthily                                                                                                            

Make sure your diet is varied and well-balanced. The goal is to consume lots of vitamins and minerals without too many calories from sugar and fat. Many people eat excessive amounts of calories from sugar and fat without meeting the body’s needs for essential vitamins and minerals. Foods that have high ratios of nutrients to calories are known as “nutritionally dense.” Try incorporating more foods like kale, collards, quinoa, and butternut squash that are naturally high in nutrients in order to support your immune system.

3. Exercise regularly                                                                 

Exercise often, especially if you are sedentary at work. A daily workout is ideal, but don’t rush into it. If you are beginning a new workout routine, be sure to ease yourself into it to avoid injury and any unnecessary stress. Overworking yourself can actually lead to a decreased immune function. Another tip: choosing an activity you enjoy will help you stay committed to your routine. Social activities like hiking in the woods, going for a swim, walking your dog, or playing sports can also be beneficial for your health.

4. Prioritise quality sleep

Experts recommend that adults sleep 7-9 hours per night to maintain optimum health. If falling asleep is an issue for you, try setting a simple, calming routine before bed. You should also try to avoid the bright light emitted from computer screens for two to three hours before bed. A lack of adequate sleep can impact mood, decrease immunity, and even cause overeating. Getting to bed early can also help you wake up early, to enjoy more sunlight and provide the body with crucial vitamin D.

5. Avoid cigarette smoke and excessive alcohol                       

“Toxin” has become a buzzword in the world of natural health, but there are some habits that are clearly unhealthy. Cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol in excess both pose serious risks to the immune system. While some alcohol in moderation can actually have health benefits, overdoing it weakens the immune system. Staying healthy is fundamental to being a happy, productive individual. Unfortunately, science is still on the hunt for the “cure for the common cold.” Common sense can help out, while we’re waiting. Get the basic nutrients your immune system needs – whether from a healthy diet or from supplements, and always remember that a balanced diet, exercise, and adequate sleep are key to keeping your immune system in check.