Boost Immunity Through Nutrition

Author: Dr. David Heber, M.D., PhD, FACP, FASN, Chairman, Herbalife Nutrition Institute

As the world is slowly moving towards reopening industries, shops, and restaurants under certain conditions, we have to keep in mind one thing: the pandemic is not over yet and we still need to be mindful of health and hygiene measures.

We have to maintain practical prevention measures, such as keeping proper hygiene, wearing a mask, and maintaining social distancing. That said, a strong immune system is more imperative than ever, as it’s critical to the defense against viral infections.

While the benefits of having a strong immune system are clear, how we increase the body’s immunity is not as straightforward as it sounds. There remains much about the immune system that researchers are still working to understand, but what we do know is the tangible connection between the immune system and nutrition.

The impact of nutrition on your immune system

To understand how nutrition and diet affect an individual’s immune system, we need to delve deeper into the biological mechanisms that switch our genes on and off.

While all humans are 99.9% genetically identical, the different combinations of genes that are turn on and off make us unique. This is why some of us have red hair and others black, or why some of us have darker or lighter skin, for instance.

What we eat, where we live, how much we sleep, how we exercise, and even who we live with, all causes chemical reactions that can influence the combinations of genes that are turn on and alter our health status. Added to the mix is our microbiome, which are the microorganisms we depend on to protect us against germs, break down food for energy, produce vital vitamins and bolster our immune system.

The largest part of the immune system - approximately 70% of it – is located near our intestines, which monitors the intake of food and how the body uses it. This makes it critical for us to consume a balanced diet with the right vitamins, minerals and nutrients while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This requires more than just changing the intake of one or two nutrients but involves balancing the entire diet to ensure that there is optimal nutrition intake at a cellular level.

Four essential groups of nutrients to strengthen your immune system

1.     Protein

Also known as the basic building blocks of the body, protein allows the body to manufacture antibodies that it requires to defend against invading viruses and bacteria. To ensure that we have sufficient levels of protein in our diet, we can eat more healthy protein foods such as fish, poultry, lean meats, soy foods and low-fat dairy products.

2.     Vitamins and phytonutrients

Vitamins A and C, as well as phytonutrients are key players in immune system health. As one of the biggest immune system boosters, Vitamin C encourages our body to produce antibodies that fight diseases. It is essential to maintain a daily intake of vitamin C as the body does not produce or store it. Vitamin A supports the health of our skin, tissues of our digestive tract and respiratory system.

Phytonutrients, which are found in vegetables and fruits, reduces our body’s oxidative stress, which may weaken its ability to fight off illnesses. A number of phytonutrients have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases, fight inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and boost the overall health of our immunity system.

3.     Probiotics and prebiotics

The digestive system plays a central role in supporting immune function. The intestinal tract is the main route of contact with the external environment and is a pathway that contains microbiomes that aids digestion as well as the absorption of nutrients. Having the right gut bacteria has been associated with benefits such as weight loss, improved digestion, healthier skin, and most importantly enhanced immune function, although research in these areas is not conclusive or universally applicable.

Studies have shown that probiotics, which are ‘good bacteria’, are useful in maintaining the digestive system, and prebiotics, types of fiber that the human body cannot digest, serve as food for these probiotics.

4.     Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, such as DHA and EPA, are healthy and essential types of fat which can be found in food such as chia seed and supplements such as fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids may enhance the functions of immune cells, which plays a large role in both the innate and adaptive system that responds to infections.

Nutrition is no substitute for an effective drug, and it won’t prevent you from contracting COVID-19 or other diseases.  Maintaining a strong immune system, though, is something all healthy people can do.