Boosting the Immune System with Food

Boosting the immune system leads to a healthier life. As the body is constantly under attack from microorganisms, abnormal cells and chemicals, the immune system – which defends our bodies from foreign attacks – must get the needed help as much and as often as possible. Food is one reliable source for immune-boosting assistance.

The Immune System in a Nutshell

According to the Arthritis Today magazine (from The Arthritis Foundation), the immune system is “The body’s complex biochemical system for defending itself against bacteria, viruses or other foreign invaders. Among the many components of the system are a variety of cells (such as T-cells), organs (such as lymph glands) and chemicals (such as histamine and prostaglandins).”

Its army of bodily defenders includes macrophages, T-cells and B-cells. In most cases, threats to the body come from bacteria, viruses, fungi and abnormal or cancerous cells.

Diet is the Key to Boosting the Immune System

The best sources of assistance for the immune system are the nutrients from the food we eat. They are the building blocks needed for strong immune system defense. The best nutrients come from food. Always discuss with an expert if supplements are needed.

The following is a list of nutrients from foods that help in boosting the immune system:

Protein is the key to a proper functioning immune system. The amino acids it provides are utilized by the body to manufacture antibodies, which protect against a wide range of infections.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (abundant in cold water fish like tuna, mackerel, and trout and flaxseed). Omega-3 oils help reduce inflammation, which is the result of the immune response to attack or injury. Omega-3 oils activate the immune system to stop attack cells after their job is over.

Vitamin E, a T-cell enhancer, is found in oils, nuts, seeds, margarine and avocados. It increases T-cell activity and assist in antibody production.

Vitamin C, found in many citrus fruits and vegetables, assists in building and maintaining mucous membranes and collagen. It strengthens blood vessel walls and enhances the function of immune cells.

Vitamin A (found in liver, fish, milk, cheese and eggs) keeps mucous membranes healthy, thus reducing the risk of infectious diseases. It increases white blood cell activity and antibody response.

Zinc, a trace mineral, the deficiency of which leads to slow healing of wounds. Zinc in abundant in seafoods (particularly oysters), meat, poultry, liver, eggs, milk, beans, nuts and whole grains. A word of caution: an excess of supplementary zinc depresses the immune system.

Selenium – another trace mineral essential for a strong immune system. Foods rich in selenium include Brazil nuts, seafood, fish, bread, wheat bran, wheat germ, oats and brown rice.

Iron should live up to its name, if you wish to be an “Iron Man.” It is a requirement for the manufacture of B- and T-Cells. It ensures that cells get the oxygen needed to function properly and resist foreign attacks. The best sources of iron include red meat, egg, dried fruits, enriched grains, cereals and legumes.

Antioxidants such as carotenoids, lycopene and beta-carotene. They protect immune cells from destructive free radicals (molecules that can harm cells and bring damage to the DNA).

More Immune System Boosters

Research has found that garlic and onions are superb immune system boosters. With their sulphur compounds, they stimulate the activity of T-cells and macrophages. Exercise also helps in boosting the immune system, especially in individuals who were previously sedentary. Probiotics, or friendly bacteria, which are found in yogurt and kefir, help immune responses against viruses.

Foods do provide nutrients that help the immune system in its job in counterattacking destructive microorganisms and other external factors. With the help of exercise, and sometimes dietary supplements, diet can bring the immune system into its optimal level of performance.


“Immune System” Arthritis Today. The Arthritis Foundation.

Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal: An A to Z Guide to Safe and Healthy Eating. The Reader’s Digest. Montreal, Canada. 416 pages. Hardbound.

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