Immune System Boost Part 2/2 Amanda Bernshteyn, MPH, NC
Updated: Nov 14, 2019
As mentioned in my previous post, when it comes to your diet, choosing whole foods is one of the most important things you can do to fortify your immune system. What follows is a list of five foods and nutrients that are known to be extra supportive for immunity. But don’t wait until you are feeling run down to improve your diet. You should be striving to include these whole foods in your diet every day.
Did you know that if you have your blood drawn 30 minutes after eating sweets or simple carbohydrates, your labs will show evidence of decreased immunity? That’s right — they will demonstrate up to a 50 percent reduction in your white blood cells’ ability to kill germs! And the effects can last up to five hours (healthykidshappykids.com). So, in addition to the recommendations I am about to make, it’s advised to keep your sugar and simple carbohydrate intake to a minimum, particularly during flu season and especially when feeling ill.
Cold weather is here and so are colds, flus and other immune insults. Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to keep our bodies fortified and protected – and much of it can be found at your local supermarket. While it’s true that almost every whole food makes a positive nutritional contribution that aids and supports the immune system, most processed foods have had their important and health-bestowing nutrients manufactured out, and thus negatively impact immunity. In addition, they may also undermine immunity by increasing systemic inflammation, disturbing hormone balance and increasing oxidative stress.
Let’s focus on some whole foods and specific nutrients that can help fortify your body and, thus, your immunity. I love a quote my teacher Laura Knoff used to say about what nutrients you need and when: “You need everything all the time.” So, don’t wait until cold and flu season hits or until you start feeling run down; the tips, foods and nutrients listed below are necessary all year long!
Whole Food Powerhouses
Without further ado, what follows is a review of five foods, nutrients and vitamins that will help boost immunity.
Omega-3 fatty acids Omega-3 fatty acids enhance immunity by protecting cell membranes, regulating gene expression of white blood cells, reducing inflammation and providing balance to the heavily consumed omega-6 fatty acid diets (derived from vegetable oils, nuts, packaged foods and restaurant foods). Omega-3 fatty acids also improve the way immune cells communicate, leading to optimized immune system function. Omega-3s can be found in supplements (fish, algae and krill oils) and in whole foods such walnuts, flax, chia, salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and in grass-fed or pastured meat, dairy and eggs (in higher amounts than is found in their conventionally raised counterparts).
Garlic Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world and has been used as an effective remedy for various ailments, including cardiovascular disease. Garlic has demonstrated antimicrobial activity. A number of trials have demonstrated that garlic can increase general immunity in animals and humans and specifically strengthen the components of the immune system that increase resistance to viral infection and cancer (Bauman, 2011). It is best used liberally when cooking. Chop or smash your garlic at least 10 minutes before you need to cook it. Letting it sit after it has been chopped activates more of its health benefits (The World's Healthiest Foods).
Mushrooms Mushrooms, specifically maitake, shiitake, reishi, cordyceps, oyster, buttons and portabellas, are known to enhance and stimulate the immune system. They are antiviral, antibacterial and liver-supportive, as well as anti-tumor. Mushroom polysaccharides, especially beta glucans studied for their immune-stimulating properties, stimulate the immune system by increasing macrophages (an important cell in the immune system that provides the first line of defense in protection from infection) and Natural Killer (NK) cells (Bauman, 2011). Use mushrooms liberally in cooking: in soups, omelets, salads, side dishes, main dishes, etc.
Probiotics Probiotics help the body resist bacterial and fungal opportunists, which can distract the immune system. We have all heard of the importance of a healthy microbiome. Take care of yours by eating great probiotic-rich foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, kombucha and miso daily. Always read labels on commercial products to confirm that they contain “live and active cultures” such as lactobacillus acidophilus and l. bulgaricus.
Zinc Zinc is considered one of the most important immune minerals. It is known to increase T cell response. A zinc deficiency impairs cell-mediated immunity. Zinc enhances NK cells, neutrophils (a type of white blood cell), macrophage activity and interleukin-2 production (IL-2 is a signaling molecule in the immune system that helps regulate activities of white blood cells) (Bauman, 2010).
Taking zinc lozenges containing 12.8 mg zinc every 2-3 hours at the onset of a cold can reduce the duration of symptoms (Life Extension, 2003). Great food sources of zinc include oysters, crab, calf liver, beef, chicken, pumpkin seeds, turkey, scallops, almonds, garlic, wheat germ, chickpeas, sesame seeds and chicken.
Activate Your Natural Killer Cells, Life Extension Magazine (January 2015), www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2015/1/activate-your-natural-killer-cells/page-01.
Garlic, University of Maryland Medical Center, umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/garlic.
How to Choose the Best Probiotic Supplement. authoritynutrition.com/best-probiotic-supplement/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=standard.
The Invisible Universe of the Human Microbiome. YouTube, uploaded by National Public Radio, 5 Nov. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DTrENdWvvM.
Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, ajcn.nutrition.org/content/68/2/447S.abstract.
Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. (2011). NC 211: The Immune System. Therapeutic Nutrition: Part 2. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College.
Bauman, E. (2010). TN211.01 Immune & Autoimmune Health, Eating for Immune Health lecture 1 [Audio/PowerPoint files]. Retrieved from Bauman College: http://dashboard.baumancollege.org/pluginfile.php/1915/mod_resource/content/1/TN_Materials/211/Lecture/unzip211.01new/player.html.
Life Extension Media (2003). Immune Enhancement. Disease Prevention and Treatment, Fourth Edition. Hollywood Florida: Life Extension Media.
Amanda Bernshteyn, MPH, NC
Amanda is a nutritionist with a holistic attitude about health. She graduated from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science and a pre-med concentration. To further round out her holistic beliefs, she studied with some of the world’s top public health professionals and obtained her Master’s degree in Public Health Nutrition, with a concentration in Health Promotion, at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Additionally, Amanda completed a program in Holistic Nutrition at Bauman College in Berkeley, California. She is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and works with individuals (adults and children) and companies in the Bay Area. Amanda is also the in-house nutritionist at the Village Doctor in Woodside. Contact her for one-on-one nutrition counseling; together you will create an actionable plan individualized for your needs and lifestyle.
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