We all know that consuming lots of green vegetables, fresh fruits and regular exercise are the most important steps for keeping a healthy body and mind. But some foods and vitamins are especially important to support the healthy functioning of our body’s immune system, which is responsible for protecting us from bacteria and viruses.
Poor nutrition will decrease our defense mechanism, increase infections, slow down the healing process, and increase symptoms and complications from immune system dysfunction.
So how should we provide support for the body to naturally strengthen our immune system?
Regular exercise has a huge positive effect on our natural immunity, T- and B-cell functions, and cytokine responses. Is also supports the digestive system, which can destroy some bacteria and viruses that we ingest through food. Additionally, sweating during exercise will help the body in its detoxification process.
There are actually so many more reasons for doing regular exercise — I should write a few more articles to just explain the benefits of exercise! Make sure when you exercise to go a little over your comfort zone and increase intensity, so you should feel your heart rate increase and sweat a little too.
The next important factor is vitamins. I’ve mentioned the benefits of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) many times. Our bodies do not have the ability to make our own vitamin C, so we need to consume it in our diet. Vitamin C also has antioxidant functions, has been shown to protect white blood cells from oxidative damage, and enhances the function of the immune system.
It’s also important to consume enough micronutrients and phytonutrients to support healthy immune function, for example through cruciferous vegetables. Isothiocyanate and insoles, and sulforaphane, found in cruciferous vegetables, may increase the activity of enzymes that play an important role in the detoxification and elimination of carcinogens.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, arugula, turnips, bok choy, and Chinese cabbage are rich in folate and chlorophyll, and also rich sources of glucosinolates (the sulfur-containing compounds that give them their bitter taste and special aroma). Chopping or chewing cruciferous vegetables releases myrosinase, an enzyme that breaks down glucosinolates into biologically active compounds, such as indoles and isothiocyanates.
Consuming vegetables either raw, or just lightly steamed, is the best way to get maximum benefits.
Back to the vitamins, the next important one is vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. This can regulate the expression of hundreds of genes involved in skeletal and other biological functions, and is essential for maintenance of bone mineralization, and particularly for activating our immune defenses and endocrine system too.
Without sufficient vitamin D, the killer cells of the immune system (T cells) will not be able to react to and fight off serious infections in the body. Scientists at the University of Copenhagen found that T cells first search for vitamin D in order to activate, and if they cannot find enough of it they will not complete the activation process.
Vitamin D has various other effects on cells within the immune system, way beyond calcium and bone strengthening. Many studies have reported that adequate amounts of vitamin D in the body may prevent many cancers, such as breast and colorectal cancer, while vitamin D deficiency may compromise the immune system, which can lead to autoimmune disease.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so if you need supplementation then it’s best to check your body’s vitamin D status so that you can get the correct amount of vitamin D for your body’s needs. You can also get it naturally from oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel, wild caught salmon, and from eggs.
Eventually, eating healthy, nutrient dense real food with a colorful diet, plenty of sunshine and regular exercise will boost your immune system while improving your health and increasing your life span.
Most importantly, living healthily is a choice you make when you take your responsibility for your health and your life. Only you can make it happen.
Ayda Ersoy is a nutrition and fitness director at The Diet Doc Hawaii. She can be reached at DietDocHawaii.com, Ayda@DietDocHawaii.com or (808) 276-6892