How to Support the Immune System with Nutrition

Shannon Miller

March 26, 2020

Wash your hands, keep your distance, stay inside: the typical script we’ve been hearing from officials as ways to protect ourselves from viruses like COVID-19 and other pathogens. Physical barriers and germ-fighting efforts are extremely beneficial, however, our bodies have a powerful immune system that, when optimized nutritionally, can be another first-line of defense against foreign invaders.

The foods we eat have incredible impact on every system in our body, including the immune system. During an immune system response, antibodies are released in response to an invader to “tag” an invaded cell to be killed. Other immune system cells (Helper-T cells and Killer-T cells) detect tagged cells and destroy them before more harm can be done to the body. Once an antibody is produced, copies remain in the body to provide “immunity” against the same invader. Nutrition, along with healthy behaviors like getting enough sunlight, not smoking and reducing alcohol and sugar consumption, is the most direct way to support and strengthen the immune response. By keeping this process running smoothly, we allow the body to protect itself from invaders or regain homeostasis after a foreign attack.

Immune-boosting Vitamins & Minerals

Several vitamins and minerals found in foods have been shown to support the immune system by increasing disease fighting cells or destroying free radicals (unstable atoms that can cause illness). These include:

  • Beta Carotene: reduces inflammation; increases disease-fighting cells
  • Vitamin C: helps destroy free radicals
  • Vitamin E: supports natural immune response
  • Zinc: increases white blood cell production to fight against invaders
  • Vitamin D: reduces the risk of viral infections

Now more than ever, we must regularly incorporate foods into our diet that contain helpful immune-boosting elements. Below are the top foods high in the vitamins and minerals listed above. Keep in mind, while supplementation is helpful for some who need extra support with deficiencies, a majority of us benefit the most from vitamins and minerals found in sources of whole foods to aid absorption.

Citrus fruits
Green Tea
Sunflower seeds

It’s easy to be nervous about outside invaders affecting our bodies in negative ways or leading to symptoms that make us feel ill. However, we have evolved as humans to combat illness with an invisible army of defenses and protectors. As long as we keep our defense systems strong through proper cleaning strategies, reducing alcohol and sugar consumption, not smoking, and most importantly, stocking our pantries and plates with fresh foods that support the immune system, our highly advanced defense system can – and will – protect us from harm.

Curious about how you can optimize your nutrition to support your health and body composition? Sign up for Nutrition Coaching with our experts!

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