Strong immune health is key for overall health and well-being, your immune system never rests, constantly protecting you from pathogens, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites.
A few ways we can support the health of this vital system include:
HAVE A HEALTHY GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM
- Support the MUCOSAL BARRIER throughout the digestive system by eating foods high in zinc such as oysters, beef, lamb, eggs, whole grains, nuts, yogurt, fish, legumes, liver, mushrooms, pecans, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, sardines and glutamine, any foods that are high in protein is also high in glutamine, whether from animal or vegetable sources. Prebiotic fibres such as slippery elm and pectin are also beneficial. Saccharomyces (Boulardii) a beneficial yeast is also helpful in maintaining our gastrointestinal mucosal barrier.
- Improve your STOMACH ACID – A healthy stomach acid provides first line defense against pathogens, such as yeasts, fungal and bacterial organisms and helps in the absorption of iron and other nutrients necessary for a healthy immune system such as vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, magnesium and amino acids. Stomach acidity is also a factor in shaping the diversity and composition of microbial communities found in the gut. Ginger is one of the best herbs for increasing digestive juices, add ginger to your meals, smoothies or drink ginger tea. Apple cider vinegar is also beneficial because it is highly acidic, so it mimics some of the effects of gastric juices. Have one to two teaspoons of high-quality apple cider vinegar (raw, with the “mother”) mixed with a bit of water right before you eat. Avoid overly processed foods, refined grains, sugars, too much alcohol and coffee.
- IMMUNITY AND THE LIVER, the liver is necessary for detoxification and immune support, containing the largest collection of phagocytic cells in the body. The balance between immunity and tolerance is essential to liver function, and 100% of viruses that enter the body are carried via the bloodstream to the liver and are filtered and then eliminated via the bile duct into the intestines and out of the body via faeces. Support your liver through eating a clean and toxin (pesticide and fungicide) free diet. Lots of vegetables and fruits that are rich in antioxidants (variety is key, lots of different colours). Remove processed foods, processed sugars and refined grains (whole grains are much better). Reduce alcohol, don’t smoke or vape, drink 1-2litres of clean filtered water daily. Nutrients that are beneficial for liver function include taurine, cysteine, choline, zinc, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, selenium, chromium and B vitamins.
- Improving the GUT MICROBIOME, as these organisms help us by creating substances that help keep the mucosal lining of the gut healthy. They also protect against invaders, help digest food, create vitamins and other metabolites that we need for health. Gut Bacteria Composition of individual bacterial species, is driven by foods e.g. starches in banana or phenols in blackberries can drive certain strains of bifidobacteria. Eating apple skins is one of the best ways to feed Akkermansia muciniphila a bacteria helpful in reducing inflammation. Increase fibre – bifidobacterium sp. shown to improve gut mucosal barrier and lowering of intestinal LPS (Lipopolysaccharides, also known as endotoxins) levels reducing immune activation, break down carbohydrates from the fibre that isn’t absorbed through the digestive process of the small intestine. Resistant starch in the form of cooled potato or rice. As well as inulin found in asparagus, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes and dandelion roots. Firmicutes in particular clostridial clusters IV and XIVa produce butyrate (a short chain fatty acid) which contributes to gut homeostasis, by preserving gut barrier functions and exerting immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Magnesium – deficiency increases the generation of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which is consistently accompanied by the sensitization of cells such as neutrophils, macrophages and endothelial cells, getting enough magnesium reduces inflammation, regulates stress response and calms the nervous system. Food sources include nuts and seeds, dark leafy vegetables.
- Selenium – the metabolic, immune and hormone system relies on adequate dietary selenium intake, good sources include organ meats, brazil nuts (6-8 nuts daily), and sardines.
- Zinc –Strongest anti-inflammatory mineral and very important in brain health, innate immune function (is antiviral) and hormonal health. When zinc is low, copper can be elevated predisposing a person to viral infections. Best food sources are oysters and nuts and seeds.
- Copper – deficiency results in decreased humoral and cell-mediated, as well as nonspecific immune function. Is a component of an antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase or (SOD) this enzyme acts as a good therapeutic agent against reactive oxygen species-mediated diseases. Foods high in copper include avocados, shellfish, nuts, organ meats, chicken, beans and peas
- Vitamin C –Necessary for supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system, supports epithelial barrier function against pathogens, and is a potent antioxidant. Prevention of infection requires dietary vitamin C intakes that provide at least 100–200 mg/day. Best sources include whole foods, fruits and vegetables, best lightly steamed or raw.
- Increasing the intake of foods containing essential fatty acids (Omega 3). Omega 3’s have been shown to shift microglia from M1 phenotype into an anti-inflammatory phenotype, balance HPA axis activity and increase BDNF levels and are also very important for your gut health, found in foods such as sardines, free range eggs, flaxseed, hemp seeds, walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
- Vitamin D– modulates the immune/inflammation system via regulating the production of inflammatory cytokines and inhibiting the proliferation of proinflammatory cells. Sources include free range eggs, oily fish, red meat, liver and sunshine
- Turmeric –Lovely immune boosting, antiproliferative and anti-inflammatory herb, Turmeric Latte – soak 5 almonds overnight, then add to a cup of hot water with a teaspoon of tumeric powder, a teaspoon of coconut oil or ghee, some cinnamon and ginger (either powder or grated) and a teaspoon of honey and a sprinkle of black pepper. Wiz it up in a nutribullet or similar. So soothing and healing for the digestive tract.
- Polyphenols – organic compounds found abundantly in plants that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that could have preventive and/or therapeutic effects for, neurodegenerative disorders, and neuroinflammation. For example Quercetin has antioxidant, antihistamine, antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects, best food sources are red and white onions, kale, lettuce, chives, licorice root and fennel leaves.
- Mushrooms – have antimicrobial, antidiabetic, antiviral, hepatoprotective, antitumor, and immunomodulatory properties. Mushrooms regulate the immune system, macrophages, T cells, dendritic cells (antigen presenting cells ), natural killer cells, and hematopoietic stem cell activities by phagocytic activity, generating reactive oxygen species, and in the production of chemical mediators. Mushroom are a rich source of proteins, fibers, and vitamins. Reishi, Cordyceps, Chaga, Turkey tail and Maitake are all great for immunity.
- Reducing sugar – an immune system depressant, therefore it is important to control the intake of dietary sugars. This means reducing all processed foods, sweets and all foods containing refined sugar.
Reach out and book in to see our naturopath if you are wanting help with any aspects related to keeping your immune system running smoothly.
by Denise Melton - Naturopath & Medical Herbalist