The immune system is a complex network of cells, proteins, and barriers that all serve to protect the body from harm. We can help the immune system do its job by eating foods that support optimal immune function.
- Medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, turkey tail, reishi, and cordyceps are associated with supporting white blood cells, including macrophages, natural killer cells, and T cells, antibody production, and cytokine regulation.
- Cold-water fatty fish such as salmon and tuna along with other foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids (nuts and seeds, plant oils, and fortified foods) support the immune system. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that play a myriad of roles in supporting whole-body health. In the immune system, omega-3s are important regulatory players and act as precursors for molecules involved in the resolution phase of inflammatory response.
- Carrots and other foods that contain vitamin A, such as leafy green, orange, and yellow vegetables and fruits as well as liver and fish oils, support the maintenance of important immune organs like the thymus. Vitamin A has been shown to regulate the life cycle and function of innate immune cells.
- Brussels sprouts and other foods that contain vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, berries, and kiwi are important for stimulating the production of white blood cells like macrophages, T cells, and B cells. Vitamin C is also supportive of white blood cells through antioxidant activity.
- Oysters and other foods that contain zinc, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins play a multi-faceted role in immune health. Zinc supports the integrity of physical immune barriers such as the skin, mucus membranes, and epithelial lining. Zinc is also important for cellular immunity, inhibition of viral replication, and T and B cell support.,,
- Swiss chard and other food sources of magnesium like other green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, are important for the immune system. Magnesium is an essential nutrient that acts as a cofactor for hundreds of vital enzyme reactions in the body. Magnesium is needed all over, and its role in immune health may include supporting healthy sleep, helping to regulate inflammation, and supporting homeostasis of innate immune cells.
Immune Health & The Stress Response
Foods that support the immune system are also important for a healthy stress response. Stress management and immune health are intricately entangled in a self-fulfilling prophecy; dealing with stress in a healthy way also provides lateral support of the immune system, and the same nutrition that promotes optimal immune health also strengthens a healthy stress response. Click below to watch our video on Nutrients Working in Harmony for an Improved Stress Response with Dr. Annette Kutz Schippel of Endocrine Wellness.
Other Nutrients & Herbs That Support the Immune System
Whole food fermentate derived from yeast is a novel compound associated with beneficial immune support. Metabolites in whole food fermentate support a healthy immune system response function including the healthy response to seasonal stressors. Human breastmilk contains important human milk oligosaccharides like 2’-fucosyllactose (2’-FL) that act as prebiotics in the digestive system. Prebiotics feed the healthy bacteria of the microbiome, which is linked to whole-body health, especially the immune system. HMOs like 2’-FL support the integrity of the gut barrier in the lower gastrointestinal tract, which includes an immunological barrier important for gut immune health.
Herbs like elderberry and echinacea support the immune system. Research connects elderberry extracts with supporting the healthy immune system response function, including in the upper respiratory system. Echinacea has long been associated with beneficial immune effects. Research has linked echinacea with supporting dendritic cell maturation, macrophage activation, and natural killer cell activity.
Though we rely heavily on the immune system, each meal gives us an opportunity to improve its capabilities. The next time you fill out a grocery list, consider foods that can help support your body’s defense.
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