The immune system is an extraordinarily complex web of components that protect the human body from a vast array of potential threats. From food poisoning to hayfever, sniffles to more serious threats, the immune system is continuously challenged. Our diets should be optimised to provide healthy amounts of the key nutrients necessary to support the specific action of immune cells within the body.
There are several types of immune cells manufactured in various locations in the body, but it is white blood cells that are perhaps the most active as their job is to destroy rogue viruses. They do so by miraculously changing shape and engulfing a viruse reducing it’s influence on the body little by little. This process is known as ‘phagocytic action’.
White blood cells that have this ability are known as ‘phagocytes’ and a robust immune system will have a large number of them.
Both the number of white blood cells and their action can be influenced by specific nutrients, and hindered by certain foods. To support the immune system it is encouraged that these nutrients be ingested to aid both the formation and consequently, number of white blood cells, as well as optimising their efficieny or phagocytic action.
Which nutrients should be focused on?
Zinc – required to support the manufacture of white blood cells
Found in beans, nuts, brown rice, seaweed and pumpkin seeds
VitaminC – enhances most areas of the immune system but can’t be stored in the human body so any excess is excreted. Regular topping up of this nutritent is encouraged
Found in berries, sweet potatoes, peppers, kale and cauliflower
Organosulphides – stimulates phagocytic action more efficient
Found in garlic, chives, onions and leeks
Carotenoids – stimulate white blood cell production
Found in carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, green vegetables, red peppers and dark berries
Omega 6 fats – helps red blood cells maintain their shape
Found in walnuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds, almonds and their oils
Selenium is involved in white blood cell and antibody production.
Found in onions, Brazil nuts, kidney beans and cashew nuts
Probiotics should be considered too as they can help with the penultimate stage of digestion as well as combat niggling bacterial and fungal infections, which may be depleting the immune system. Plain yogurt is a good source as are supplements, but get the best quality you can afford as not all probiotic capsules are equal.