The immune system is a multifaceted system in the body that is comprised of specialized cells, organs, and proteins designed to fight off microbes. The main parts of your immune system include white blood cells, antibodies, the lymphatic system, bone marrow, the spleen, the complement system, and the thymus. These tissues, organs, and cells work together to protect the body against illness and disease.
There are two main immune responses, the innate and adaptive. The innate acts quickly by providing barriers. The adaptive immune response is a little more complicated and creates antigens and memory. When a foreign microbe enters the body, the immune system is activated. It sends out specialized cells to destroy the microbe. Once the immune system comes in contact with a microbe or germ, it creates a record of the microbe in specialized white blood cells called memory cells (T-cells and B-cells). If that microbe enters the body at a later time, the immune system activates and destroys the germ before it can multiply and cause you to become sick.
Your immune system must be healthy to protect against illness and disease, which is why its advisable to follow these health practices to boost their immunity. Many people do not realize how important our daily diet is to our immune system. Let’s take a look at 12 critical nutrients that will help boost your immune system naturally.
- Allicin – Allicin is a potent compound found in garlic. This amino acid is used by the body to reduce inflammation and provide antioxidant protection. Individuals who consume garlic or take a garlic supplement can recover faster from respiratory illnesses. The allicin found in garlic provides antimicrobial and antiviral properties that help your body fight off illness, inflammation, and disease. To activate fresh garlic’s immune properties, be sure to crush a clove and let it rest for 5 minutes before consuming or adding to your favorite dishes.
- Ginger – Ginger is a potent herb that has been used for thousands of years to reduce nausea, decrease inflammation throughout the body, and improve overall health and well-being. Ginger contains gingerols which are potent antioxidants that help boost immunity naturally. This tasty herb can be used in a variety of dishes, steeped into a tea, or taken as a supplement.
- Iron – Iron is used by the body to transport oxygen to the cells throughout the body. In addition, iron is used in a plethora of immune processes. In order for the body to create immune cells like lymphocytes, it needs ample levels of iron. Iron can be found in most animal products, including red meat, poultry, oysters, clams, and muscles. It can also be found in green leafy vegetables like broccoli and kale, beans, and iron fortified cereal.
- Probiotics – The majority of your immune system is housed in your gastrointestinal tract. The GI tract contains both good and bad bacteria. When the bacteria in your GI tract becomes imbalanced, it can cause reduced immunity and inflammation. Taking a probiotic supplement along with eating probiotic rich foods like yogurt, fermented vegetables, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, and kombucha tea can help to increase the number of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Furthermore, eating prebiotic foods like onions, garlic, bananas, and whole grains act as food for the beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract.
- Selenium – Selenium is a powerful mineral that is used for a variety of processes in your body. First, it acts as an antioxidant removing free radicals from the body and preventing cellular damage. Selenium also boosts your immunity by decreasing inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. A selenium deficiency decreases immunity and slows down the immune response. Selenium can be found in a variety of protein foods, including nuts, seeds, poultry, lean meat, seafood, eggs, lentils, and beans. Peas, potatoes, spinach, and other leafy, green vegetables are also good sources of selenium. Eating just five Brazil nuts a day can provide you with the necessary amount of selenium your immune system needs.
- Turmeric – Turmeric is a yellow spice used in Indian dishes and curry. This bright yellow spice contains a powerful anti-inflammatory called curcumin. Turmeric also boosts the immune system and provides antiviral protection. Including turmeric in your diet or taking turmeric supplements can help increase your immunity and reduce inflammation in the body. To activate turmeric’s immune properties, add a pinch of black pepper while cooking.
- Vitamin A – Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight infections and strengthen the immune system. Vitamin A has been shown to improve the microbiome in the gut. The immune system needs vitamin A for both adaptive and innate immunity. Vitamin A rich foods include colorful vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, butternut squash, and dark, green, leafy vegetables. Vitamin A is also found in tuna and most multivitamins.
- Vitamin B9 – Folate is vitamin 9. This vitamin is used by the body to enhance immunity. A deficiency of folate (folic acid) has been associated with an altered immune response, the inhibition of immune cells, and systemic inflammation. Folic acid helps activate and circulate natural killer cells (T cells and B cells) through the body to help prevent disease. Folate rich foods include legumes like beans and peas, asparagus, eggs, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, nuts, seeds, and fortified grains. In addition to this, you can take a multivitamin that contains folic acid.
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C has been shown to support the immune system. Your body is unable to make vitamin C, which means you must get it from foods and supplements. The body uses vitamin C to repair damaged tissues, sweep free radicals from the body and assist in wound healing. Finally, vitamin C helps maintain and repair your skin, teeth, bones, and cartilage. Vitamin C rich foods include citrus fruits, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, kiwifruit, potatoes, and tomatoes. When these foods are heated or stored for a long period of time, the amount of vitamin C begins to diminish. To maximize your nutrient absorption, steam or microwave your vegetables for a minimal amount of time. Taking a vitamin C supplement can also help enhance your immunity.
- Vitamin D – Most people know how important vitamin D is to bone health; however, many do not realize that it also plays an important role in immunity. Individuals with a vitamin D deficiency are at an increased risk of infections and autoimmune disorders. A vitamin D supplement or eating foods rich in vitamin D can help improve our immunity. Vitamin D rich foods include fish (tuna, salmon, trout, etc.), portobello mushrooms, and cod liver oil. Certain foods are also fortified with vitamin D, including dairy products, plant-based milk, cereal, and orange juice. In addition to this, sunlight exposure without sunscreen can provide your body with the vitamin D it needs to maintain health.
- Vitamin E – Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant that boosts your immunity. Vitamin E is used by around 200 different biochemical functions in the body that are critical to how well your immune system functions. Vitamin E rich foods include high fat plant foods like hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, and peanut butter. Additionally, plant oils like soybean oil, safflower, and sunflower oil are rich in vitamin E. Taking a vitamin E supplement is another great way to boost your immunity.
- Zinc – The body uses zinc to create new immune system cells. Zinc is often prescribed for viral infections like flu and common cold. Zinc is available in lozenges, nasal sprays, and supplements. Zinc is available in animal foods as well as certain vegetarian foods. Adding chickpeas, crab, lean poultry, lean meat, oysters, baked beans, and yogurt in your diet can help you get the zinc you need to enhance your immune system naturally.
Boost Your Immunity Naturally
Getting immune boosting nutrients from your foods will help ensure your immune system is functioning properly. Plant based foods are often recommended because they also have antimicrobial and antiviral properties, which can help fight off infection. With the help of holistic nutrition counseling, you will be able to develop a diet that ensures you are getting the nutrients necessary to boost the immune system naturally.