Every living being has some sort of immune system to keep them healthy. Without one, we would be open to invasion from disease-causing microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
The immune system is a network of cells, organs, proteins and tissues that are spread throughout the body. It can recognise foreign substances—called antigens—and mounts an attack when they are detected.
Sometimes our immune system falls short; an antigen manages to take a foothold in the body and makes you sick. There are however, some nutrients that can impede this process and boost your immune system.The most notable ones are outlined below.
Blackcurrants contain 4 times the amount of vitamin C as oranges, and 2 times the amount of antioxidants as blueberries. In addition, blackcurrants contain many antioxidants and anthocyanins, which can help to strengthen the immune system.
A study done here in New Zealand demonstrated that blackcurrant supplements increased the immune response in people who take regular exercise. It also enhanced their performance by enabling them to train harder and for longer periods of time.
Vitamin C is one of the best known boosters for the immune system. Your body uses vitamin C to produce specialised cells vital to the body’s immune response, including neutrophils, lymphocytes and phagocytes.
This study found that taking vitamin C helps to reduce the symptoms and the duration of respiratory infections, such as colds, bronchitis or sinusitis.
Plus, vitamin C also helps to protect our body from oxidative stress, which occurs when your body fights a bug. Oxidative stress causes the body to produce free radicals which can damage cell walls, and cause the contents to leak and make any inflammation worse.
Daily intake of vitamin C is essential for our health because the body doesn’t produce or store it.
Garlic can help reduce the symptoms of colds and flu, and may even prevent you from getting sick. Certain compounds in garlic may help to increase the activity of some types of white blood cells when they encounter viruses, such as ones that cause colds and flu.
For this study, 146 healthy volunteers were given either garlic supplements or a placebo for three months. The group that took garlic had a 63% lower risk of getting a cold, and their colds were also 70% shorter.
Vitamin D helps the immune system to destroy the agents that can cause infection. It may also help to reduce your chances of developing the flu, according to this study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Iron, Zinc and Selenium
Our bodies use iron, zinc and selenium for growing immune cells. In addition, iron helps to destroy the microorganisms that cause disease by increasing the number of free radicals that can kill them. It also regulates the chemical reactions that occur in cells that are vital to the immune system recognising and targeting antigens.
Zinc helps maintain the integrity of the skin and mucous membranes, which form a barrier against antigens. Both zinc and selenium are antioxidants, which help to mitigate some of the damage that oxidative stress can cause.
B vitamins contribute to your immune system’s first response when it recognises an antigen, by affecting the production and activity of a type of white blood cell called ‘natural killer’ cells. Natural killer cells make infected cells ‘implode’, a process known as apoptosis.