'How to boost your immune system' has, understandably, been one of the world's most Googled questions during the pandemic. But regardless of the threat posed by Covid, a strong immune system is essential for a healthy, happy life, and it makes sense to do what you can to strengthen your first line of defence against illness-causing antigens such as bacteria, viruses, toxins, fungi or parasites.
No matter how healthy you are, there will be moments when you find your immune system weakened or compromised. There are multiple factors that contribute to a strong (or weakened) immune system. Sleep is vitally important, for example, along with regular exercise. A diet of unprocessed foods with lots of healthy proteins, fruit and vegetables also helps, but there are four nutrients in particular that have been proven to give your immune system an extra helping hand. But first...
How Does Your Immune System Work?
Spread throughout your body – your cells, tissue, protein and lymphoid organs such as the spleen, bone marrow, thymus and lymph nodes – the immune system generates leukocytes, or white blood cells, which do the heavy lifting to keep your body safe.
Leukocytes continuously circulate through your blood vessels and lymphatic vessels on a surveillance mission, watching out for any foreign pathogens that could cause harm. They then identify these bodies through protein and, when they locate something threatening, they multiply and send signals to other cells to do the same, creating a coordinated effort to destroy the antigen.
How To Boost Your Immune System: The Best Nutrients
We can't stress enough how important a healthy, varied diet is to the function of all cells, including immune cells. Each stage of the immune response, however, relies on certain nutrients and four of the most beneficial are: vitamin C, zinc, curcumin and chicory inulin. Here's the science...
What’s the first thing your parents reached for when you were feeling poorly? Chances are, it was vitamin C. Vitamin C is one of the most well-documented boosters of the immune system and boasts a vast array of benefits. It encourages the production of white blood cells to fight off foreign bodies and helps to keep the immune system running like a well-oiled machine through the creation and maintenance of its normal function – helping to build stronger, more robust T cells. As an antioxidant, it both strengthens the skin as a protective barrier and fights off oxidative stress. On top of that, if you get injured, it can speed recovery and make you heal more quickly. Yes, Vitamin C can (kind of) make you into a real-life Wolverine!
Zinc, like Vitamin C, is one of the first port-of-call nutrients for anyone under-the-weather. It’s one of the essential building blocks for healthy cells throughout the human body, helping it to create protein and DNA. Like vitamin C, zinc contributes to the normal function of the immune system and protects cells from oxidative stress. Studies have shown that it can also prop up the immune system and prevent it from spiralling out of control and accidentally damaging cells in the process.
Turmeric is a flowering plant in the ginger family, the roots of which have been used in South and East Asian cooking for thousands of years, giving curry its yellow colour. Its main phenolic compound is something called curcumin, which has become one of the most sought-after antioxidants in the health community.
Curcumin is known to dramatically increase the antioxidant capacity of the body and to produce potent anti-inflammatory effects. It can also restore T cell communities and enhance antibody responses. This creates a litany of beneficial effects for those suffering from arthritis, allergies, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
Chicory is a woody, herbaceous brassica akin to spinach that has long been a staple of European cooking. Chicory root has been known to have positive effects on the immune system, particularly the gut. It contains inulin, a prebiotic fibre. A prebiotic is an indigestible food ingredient that can stimulate beneficial bacteria growth in the intestine. Inulin is known to stimulate immune cells in the gut wall, or epithelium, to prevent them from weakening when exposed to an inflammatory substance or chemical. This can then help promote mucosal immunity or gut health in athletes and foster a better-working digestive system in general.
Essential Nutrients to Boost your Immune System: Summary
A strong immune system is vital for preventing illness. Often unavoidable stressors such as fatigue, anxiety and office life can adversely affect your immune system. However, maintaining a nutritious diet with plenty of vitamin C, zinc, curcumin from turmeric and chocory inulin can improve the normal function of your immune system, protect cells from oxidative stress, reduce inflammation and improve antibody responses. A win-win-win-win!