Like every country has a defense system to protect its citizens from external threats, our body has a defense mechanism which helps it to maintain its optimum health and well being.
An immune system is basically a network of various cells, tissues, organs which work together to protect the body from various foreign invading cells.
Our body provides an excellent environment for the survival of various microbes and hence it is prone to diseases.
The immune system limits their growth and maintains harmony. Hence, this constellation of cells with numerous responses is the basis of our healthy body.
Before going ahead and finding about the foods, lets understand our immune system in brief. This would help in connecting the dots later.
What is the immune system composed of?
The first layer of defense is the innate immune system whose response is non-specific.
It is triggered when the microbes are identified by its receptors. It is found in nearly all forms of life. If the foreign body is able to cross this system, the second level of defense in the adaptive immune system has pathogen and antigen specific response. It is evolved in early vertebrates.
It consists of special type of white blood cells (leukocytes) called lymphocytes.
There are 2 major types of lymphocytes namely, B cells which bind to extracellular microbes by secreting antibodies and T cells which combat microbes that have learned to live inside the body. Then, there are macrophages which are essentially responsible for phagocytosis (engulfing solid particles).
There are other components like neutrophils which aid in phagocytosis, basophils which release various enzymes to promote inflammation, eosinophils which contain receptors for immunoglobulins and mast cells which have inflammatory mediators.
How some foods enhance immunity?
This defense army and its warriors always need healthy conditions to fight against foreign bodies. Proper nourishment and healthy diet is what keeps them going in a full swing.
Scientists have seen that people who are malnourished are more prone to diseases. So, a healthy diet and proper intake of all required components is necessary for optimal immunity.
There are some evidences that certain nutrient deficiencies can alter our immune system. Immune system is always strongly influenced by intake of various nutrients.
Some key nutrients which are known to help our immunity are:
Selenium: Low level shows greater risk of cancers like breast, rectum, lung and prostate cancer. Studies have been carried out to remove prostate cancer by combining selenium and vitamin E.
Vitamin D: Deficiency of Vitamin D is associated with increased infection prone state and increased autoimmunity. Vitamin D was used to treat tuberculosis well before antibiotics came. It also has an important role in anti-microbial response. It helps in calcium absorption in small intestine.
Correlation between vitamin D and immune cells has been seen, where vitamin D inhibits B cell proliferation and blocks immunoglobulin secretion.
Vitamin A: It plays a crucial role in getting away with infectious diseases as it maintains mucosal surfaces by influencing certain T and B cells and cytokines. While vitamin C normal level does not have a very extraordinary effect but its deficiency leads to an impaired immune system.
Vitamin B: According to research and studies, it has been seen that vitamin B2 works against certain diseases caused by bacteria. Also, maintaining the level of vitamin B6 in the body helps a smooth functioning of immune system.
Its deficiency depressed certain aspect of the system like lymphocytes’ ability to mature and spin off in various B and T cells.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C optimum level can help enhance various parameters of the immune system while its deficiency can lead to reduced resistance against certain pathogens. This vitamin can slightly reduce the duration of the illness.
Zinc: Sufficient amount of zinc is required as its deficiency leads to disturbance in the ability of T cell to function. On the other hand, excess of zinc in the body can lead to a disturbance in immune system.
So, for a healthy mind and body, every system of our body including the immune system should have a smooth functioning.
For a healthy immune system, a specific food items isn’t helpful rather it is a proper diet mixed with appropriate amount of nutrients that helps boost the immunity.
15 Foods to Boost Your Immunity
Having discussed the key nutrients, lets discuss some awesome foods from which our body can get these nutrients naturally. Here is a list of some daily food items which can help in boosting our immunity and maintaining it.
It was observed in 1970s that mother's milk helps in the immune system of infants. It showed anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory properties and also presence of immune regulatory agents was seen. These agents were compensation for developmental delays during infancy.
Also, organic milk of cow which feeds on grass has beneficial bacteria helping the immune system and can reduce allergies. It is rich in vitamin C, zinc. Raw milk has no side effects like skin rashes, diarrhea and cramps which are found in pasteurized milk.
If raw milk isn’t available, whey protein can be used. It is the liquid that separates from curd during cheese production. After its drying, these nutrients get concentrated and they are beneficial for our immunity. Whey protein contains beta-glucans and immunoglobulins which support our body’s natural detoxification processes.
What it means : This dairy product, milk which is used in every household has proven to be an excellent immune booster because it contains some important nutrients like vitamin and proteins.
2. Fermented Food
One major fermented food item which drew maximum attention was ‘Kefir’. It provides our body with beneficial micro-organisms that help in our immune system and are an excellent solution to diseases like AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer and herpes.
It is used for the treatment of tuberculosis traditionally.
‘Koumiss’ is another item which is used for tuberculosis treatment. ‘Natto’ is a sticky dish popular in Japan which is rich in vitamin K2 and has antioxidant properties. It helps in bone formation and helps prevent osteoporosis in older people.
‘Gundruk’ another fermented food item in Himalayas has large amount of ascorbic acid, carotene and dietary fibers in it which have anti-carcinogenic effect. Some more fermented foods like yogurt, tempeh, idli, dosa and pickle are excellent immune enhancers.
What it means : It is seen that research and studies were successful in showing that fermented food items have been a great immunity boosters. Since ancient times, fermented foods have magically worked due to the presence of maximum nutrients.
3. Coconut and Coconut oil
Coconut oil gives “HDL” cholesterol a boost. Coconut oil contains powerful anti-viral agents. Cold and flu both are viruses and studies show that coconut oil is effective against them.
Especially in winters it keeps the immune system strong and intact. Coconut oil is excellent for thyroid and metabolism.
Along with this, it contains lauric acid which gets converted into monolaurin in our body. This component is present in breast’s milk and strengthens baby’s immunity.
Research has been carried out to establish importance of lauric acid in immune system.
Selection of coconut oils should be precise. You should see to it that you choose organic, unrefined, unbleached coconut oil which is made without using chemicals.
What it means: Coconut oil used in everyday life promotes good cholesterol in our body. Its anti-viral property helps it to keep the immune system nourished.
Mushrooms contain proteins, fibers, vitamin C, vitamin B, calcium and various other minerals. They also contain beta-glucan which enhances immunity by various mechanisms for example- it binds to macrophages and other scavenger white blood cells, activating their anti-infectious activity.
Mushrooms have traditionally shown excellent anti-microbial properties and it is a magnificent source and a supplement for a healthy immune system. Ganomycins inhibit the growth of certain bacteria. These extracts from mushrooms worked against skin problems as well.
Besides antibacterial activity, mushrooms showed antiviral properties as well. Several triterpenes from Ganoderma lucidum are active against HIV-1. Mushrooms could also play a crucial role in treatment of cancers. Antioxidant properties were shown by various components.
What it means: Various compound extracted from mushrooms had shown antiviral, antitumor, immunomodulating, anti-inflammatory and antiatherogenic properties making them an important immune system building and enhancing food item
Garlic has been used as a medicine since long time along with being a food item. In 18th century, crushed garlic was used to protect the body from plague.
Garlic can be used to prevent heart diseases and cancers. It is used to control high blood pressure, high cholesterol level and to boost immune system. It is an anti-oxidant present in garlic fight against the free radicals which increases in our body as we age up.
These radicals can causes cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies have shown that population who take up more of garlic are less likely to get colon and stomach cancers and cancer of oesophagus. Garlic also contains allicin, a chemical that is anti-carcinogenic.
What it means: From years now, garlic shows wide variety of properties which boost our immune system helping us fight back against many diseases and life threatening problems.
Berries have been correlated with decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Some commonly consumed berries are blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, cranberry and strawberries which are low in calories and are high in moisture and fibers.
Berries also have natural anti-oxidants such as vitamin C and E. It has also been seen that they contain various micronutrients such as folic acid, calcium, selenium, alpha and beta carotene and lutien.
As we have seen that these nutrients are important in a healthy immune system. They also contain poly phenols along with flavonoids. Wild berries in particular are immune boosters. Berries contain powerful phytochemical called anthocyanin which is a pigment which gives blueberry its color.
What it means: Berries contain various beneficial compounds like anthocyanin, vitamin C and E, calcium etc. This makes them medically useful in nourishing the immune system.
There are four main types of teas which are white, green, oolong and black tea out of which green and white tea are medicinally more useful.
Tea has strong antioxidant properties and poly phenols including flavonoids which are naturally occurring components in them. Antioxidants act against the free radicals in the body and hence reduce the damage by low density lipoprotein (LDP) or ‘bad’ cholesterol in blood.
Tea also contains catechin that work against cancer and unwanted genetic changes. More research has been carried out to find out very specific health benefits of tea.
What it means: Immune boosting properties and its effect against cardiovascular diseases makes tea an immune booster. Presence of catechin, poly phenols and its ability to reduce LDP makes it more useful.
Chlorella is a single cell fresh water algae that acts as a detoxifying agent. It is rich in chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals and other trace elements like zinc, calcium, magnesium, sulfur and potassium.
Its anti-tumor properties and immune-stimulant properties in human beings have been successfully proven by various researchers and their studies.
It helps in healing wounds, freshens breathe and most importantly stimulates and protects the immune system. It helps in digestion and purification of blood.
What it means: Chlorella is useful in relieving inflammatory pains and digestion of food. It is rich in chlorophyll and other nutrients and this broad spectrum use of chlorella makes it an excellent immune system boosting component.
Propolis is a resin like material from the bud of poplar and cone-bearing trees. It is one of the broad spectrum anti-microbials in the world.
It is used to treat diseases caused by bacteria, viruses (including H1N1, swine flu, and common cold), fungi and protozoa.
Propolis is a nice anti-inflammatory agent and is also a powerful antioxidant. It is used to boost the immune system and used in treatment of cancer. It helps in treatment of gastrointestinal tract problems including that of peptic ulcer diseases.
Propolis is effective for cold sores, genital herpes, vaginal swelling, canker sores. Propolis contains caffeic acid and apigenin which aid immune response.
What it means: Propolis contains powerful antioxidants, caffeic acid and apigenin. It shows anti-microbial properties and hence aid immune response.
10. Green Leafy Organic Vegetables
When it comes to fighting pathogens and various diseases caused by them, eating green leafy vegetables (like spinach, broccoli) and locally grown organic vegetables which are rich in nutritional values are important.
While all vegetables are good, but we are stressing on organic ones because vegetables grown using artificial pesticides and manure are found to harm our body in long run. On the other hand organic vegetables are harvested using natural methods.
Green leafy vegetables in general contain variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants etc. Vegetables are a very rich source of proteins as well.
What it means: Freshly chosen green vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, proteins and some powerful antioxidants. This complete package of nutrients has an exceptionally positive effect on the immune system.
11. Fish Oil
Oil extracted contains omega-3 fatty acid which makes our blood less likely to form clots that can cause heart-attacks. Fish which contain this are tuna, salmon, mackerel, mullet, bluefish, anchovy, sardines, trout, herring and menhaden.
Omega-3 also helps in lowering the blood pressure, reduces risk of strokes, decrease the growth of artery-clogging plagues. Salmon is also low in saturated fats and is a good source of proteins.
Being protein rich source, it helps in the immune system.
What it means: For non-vegetarians, fish oil is a good source for immunity as presence of omega-3 fatty acids serves to minimize heart problems, strokes and blood pressure issues. This in turn serves to boost up our immunity.
Nuts have a unique composition. They are nutrient dense foods with complex matrix rich in proteins, fibers, tocopherols, phytosterols and phenolic compounds.
They have a high content of vegetable oil. They are also rich in macronutrients which can beneficially affect cardiovascular and metabolic outcomes.
It contains significant amount of folate, antioxidant vitamins, minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium. Nuts are packed with vitamin E which is a fat soluble vitamin.
What it means: Different types of nuts basically are effective against various diseases and act immune booster. It contains many beneficial compounds like tocopherols, phenolic compounds, phtosterols and vitamins which help it in its medical use.
Turmeric is a plant which is used as a key ingredient in many curries etc. It is known to have more than 600 health benefits and improving immunity is one of them.
Over years along with an antiseptic it has also shown immune system enhancing properties.
It is used for arthritis, bronchitis, coids, lung infections, fever, leprosy, menstrual problems, and cancer.
Turmeric shows a broad spectrum anti-microbial activity. It is also seen effective against diabetes, stomach infections, irritable bowel syndrome, gum diseases, skin rashes, tuberculosis etc. Turmeric is widely used and should be used on a daily basis for a healthy living.
What it means: Turmeric is also called miracle herb because of its amazing health benefits. It should be included in your diet.
Ginger is a common household ingredient used in various dishes and also added to tea for a better taste. Ginger shows powerful antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory activity as well.
Ginger is potential against treatment of ailments like degenerative disorder, digestive health, vomiting, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and cancer.
What it means: Infections caused by viruses, parasites, bacteria which lead to inflammations can also be cured by optimal use of ginger. This makes it nourishment to the immune system of the body.
15. Citrus fruits
Fruits are always recommended for a healthy body.
Citrus fruits include oranges, lemons, lime, grapefruits etc. Citrus flavonoids are antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and protect the body against heart diseases.
Study also shows that they improve the blood flow, reduce the ability of arteries to form blood clot. Citrus fruits are good source of vitamin C, folate and thiamine.
What it means: Fruits contains vitamin which cure blood pressure problems and various heart diseases. Due to this, citrus fruits are excellent immune stimulants.
A complete diet containing vitamins, minerals, traced elements, carbohydrates, proteins etc keeps our body healthy. All these components together have anti-microbial properties and they work wonders.
If the immune system of the body fails, the defense fails and subsequently the body becomes prone to every possible disease. Hence, proper nourishment of this system will keep all the warriors ready for the war.
A proper and complete diet is what gives a healthy mind and body. One should always see to it that healthy habits are practiced. Along with a nutritious diet, proper sleep, healthy lifestyle and manners are of utmost importance.
It is on you what you choose when you are provided with many options. As they say “Health is Wealth”. Choose wisely.