We have all been given a crash course on the problems associated with a compromised immune system of late. Interestingly, regardless of the reasons why, taking a moment to understand the importance of a healthy immune system protects us from more than this pandemic virus.
Inflammation is part of your body’s defence mechanism, the natural response to invaders in the body and injury to the body. In most cases, we can expect inflammation to be acute, or short-lived, such as acute pneumonia or a twisted ankle.
Chronic inflammation occurs when the invaders resist the host defences allowing them to remain in the tissue for prolonged periods from a few months to years. We are discovering that our diet can contribute to chronic inflammation as well.
When the immune system is out of control, it shows up as autoimmune disease, the process wherein the body’s natural defences attack its own healthy tissue. This process where the body is seen as the foreign antigen gives rise to such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and atopic dermatitis (AD), also known as eczema.
A Weakened Immune System Leaves us Vulnerable
People with asthma are considered at risk during this pandemic due to the oxidative stress and inflammation in the body that results from the condition. What we have seen is that the SARS-CoV-2 can produce the same symptoms of asthma as the airways become inflamed and begin to narrow, which results in shortness of breath, a tight chest and coughing.
We have seen a lot of the symptoms of this virus having the same effects as autoimmune disease. We also know that one way to counter autoimmune disease is by eating a healthy diet that provides the immune system what it needs to boost its healthy responses without going out of control.
We look at foods you can eat that will boost your immune system in a way that keeps you healthy to fight invading pathogens while keeping inflammation down.
Let’s Start with the Basic Fundamental: Water
Most people are oblivious to the fact that they are in a constant state of dehydration simply because they do not drink enough water daily. While our bodies are comprised of 60 percent water, our blood is 90 percent water, and it is at the cellular level where all of this makes sense.
Without our even realizing it, our brains are mechanical engineering wonders redirecting the water we do have in our systems to divert it to the cells. This means when we are not taking in sufficient water daily, other areas of our bodies go into shut-down mode so that the cells still have what they need to function.
We can avoid a host of illnesses and conditions if we would just drink more water. It is important to distinguish it is not just about liquid since the excuse is often made that we get enough water in the foods and beverages we consume. Please do not be confused in this way.
For proper cellular function, you need to take in water, whether it is tap or bottled water. Your cells cannot work the way they must when they are only getting coffee and sodas as fluids. Both water and salt are essential to maintaining optimal health.
Water provides for but is not limited to the following:
- Food digestion
- Flushing waste
- Weight loss – without even trying
- Maintaining blood pressure
- Joint lubrication
- Fortifying saliva and mucous membrane
- Delivering oxygen throughout the body
- To cushion the brain, spinal cord and tissues of the body
- Keeping skin healthy and reducing wrinkles
- Regulating body temperature
- Boosting exercise performance
- Accessibility of minerals and nutrients
- Preventing kidney damage
- Unrestricted airways in the lungs
- Reducing inflammation
Getting started, the intake should be a minimum of eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day. This can increase and is certainly more for men than for women. It is also important to remember to increase your water intake when more water is escaping your body through sweating, when the weather is hot, if you are experiencing diarrhoea or vomiting or have a fever.
Become Selective When Shopping for Healthy Foods
We are so lucky to have such plenty in the local grocery stores. Unfortunately, not all that is on offer is good for our immune systems. We must become smart shoppers and learn to avoid the processed foods and go for whole foods that will deliver the vitamins and nutrients we need to stay healthy. In fact, we now know that all those processed foods do more to contribute to chronic inflammation.
This may mean you are doing more home cooking, but it does not mean you cannot make wise choices from the menu at your favourite restaurants. Here are the foods to focus on that will do more for boosting your immune system:
Garlic – a superfood because it is like medicine. When garlic is crushed, sliced or chewed it produces a compound called allicin containing sulfur, which is what gives garlic its medicinal properties. This is what boosts the disease-fighting response of white blood cells to protect you from the virus. If you want to maximize the health benefits of garlic, let it stand for 10 minutes after slicing or crushing before cooking with it and use plenty of it.
Mushrooms – while still new to Western medicine, they have been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years. In fact, they are considered mini-vaccines to fight stress, inflammation and even cancer. They are also a brain booster, a hormone helper and an antioxidant powerhouse.
Spinach – Popeye was not kidding around with this muscle-building leafy green. Spinach is loaded with Vitamins A, B, C and K as well as plant-based Omega-3s, potassium and phytonutrients that are anti-inflammatory and fight off diseases. In other words, a fantastic immune booster. Spinach packs the biggest punch when eaten raw.
Broccoli – the little trees! This green vegetable is always at the top of the list of healthiest foods because it is supercharged with Vitamins A, C, and E as well as fibre and antioxidants. It is best when steamed as opposed to boiled to retain the nutritional benefits. When you see the green colour in the water after boiling, it means you have left all those nutrients in the pot.
Citrus – for the Vitamin C! It is always best to get your nutritional intake directly from foods rather than taking supplements. Vitamin C from citrus helps build up the immune system by fortifying your white blood cells. We associate Vitamin C with oranges, of course, but you can also gain this from lemons and limes, too.
Grapefruit is loaded with polyphenols, which improve circulation and can also help you lose weight. Caution to those taking blood pressure medication, however, as they are typically instructed not to eat grapefruit because it can interfere with the medicine. Remember, it is always better to eat the fruit rather than drink the juice as this typically adds unneeded sugar to your diet.
Eggs – an “eggcellent” source of protein that also helps support immune response plus Vitamins D, E, zinc and selenium.
Papaya – a fruit that also contains Vitamin C. The digestive enzyme unique to papaya called papain also provides anti-inflammatory properties.
Green Tea – not only is green tea an anti-oxidant from the flavonoids, but it also contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is another potent anti-oxidant.
Kiwi – small but mighty, kiwis are naturally loaded with essential nutrients like Vitamins C and K, folate and potassium.
Poultry – how can we forget chicken soup! This comfort remedy is high in Vitamin B6. Both turkey and chicken provide an excellent bone broth if you boil down the bones and cartilage. This provides a stock that is full of gelatine, chondroitin and other nutrients for healthy immunity.
Shellfish – such as crab, oysters, lobster and mussels all contain zinc, which helps the immune system attack those pathogens that cause the virus.
Salmon and tuna – in addition to the Omega 3s, these two fishes also contain Vitamin D essential to immune function.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are both fun to eat and nutritious. Nuts also provide healthy fats. These are foods you can snack on without a guilty conscience. Among them, here are the ones that give you the best immune system boost:
Brazil Nuts – one nut a day! Yes, that’s right. If you were to have but one Brazil nut a day you would be delivering a daily dose of zinc, iron and selenium. Zinc allows your body to develop immune system cells, antioxidant enzymes and helps with the activity of immune system regulators.
Cashews – another source of zinc essential to your system and helpful in correcting a compromised immune system.
Pistachios – high in Vitamin B6 promotes blood circulation, helps maintain healthy lymph glands and the production of white blood cells that boost the immunes system.
Almonds – high in Vitamin E that helps immune system function. A half-cup of almonds daily provides the RDA of Vitamin E.
Walnuts – along with Vitamin B6, walnuts also include copper to help maintain bone, nerve and immune system function.
Sunflower seeds – in addition to Vitamins B6 and E, these little power-packed seeds are full of good stuff including phosphorous, magnesium and selenium.
Pumpkin seeds – there is just so much good about pumpkins altogether, but the seeds make a great snack or addition to recipes. High in zinc, they help boost the immune system. They also contain magnesium for heart health and control of blood pressure; iron that helps inhibit the development of cancer cells and fight fatigue; the amino acid tryptophan essential to serotonin production to help your mood and get a good night’s sleep; Omega-3s, Vitamin E and folate.
Probiotics for a Healthy Gut
Another area people have become aware of in staying healthy is gut bacteria. In fact, the condition of our gut bacteria has everything to do with how healthy we are. It is like a central system all its own that has immense powers of keeping us stabilized until it doesn’t. Therefore, sources of good bacteria are always a good choice to add to the diet.
These probiotics include things like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles and some kinds of cheeses that contain live cultures. You get the idea. What they all have in common is fermentation. It could be said that these probiotics are the single-most-important food selection to help immune function.
It has all to do with the microbiome that is responsible for enabling your body to process the necessary nutrients by delivering the “good bacteria” to your digestive system. It is the slick method of allowing your system to process harmful bacteria without it being harmful to the body.
As this coronavirus has made its impact on the world, everyone has had to take steps to mitigate the risks. The all-too-familiar efforts of handwashing, social distancing, good hygiene and being selective with whom we spend our time have paid off. When it comes down to it, though, the experts maintain that the best effort we can make is in improving our health, and this starts with focusing on boosting the immune system. We are seeing more and more that in nearly all things to do with health, it has everything to do with what we eat.