What is the Immune System
The immune system is in place to stop invading pathogens (virus or bacteria) entering our body. There are 3 levels of defence. The outer layer or skin is the first line of defence. It acts as a barrier that they are unable to penetrate. The only way for the germs to get from your skin to internal is by touching your mouth, eye, nose with your infected body part (usually hands). This highlights why hygiene or hand washing in particular is so important. Soap aids the mechanical removal of the germ which is why 20 continuous seconds of handwashing is needed.
Once a germ enters our body the second line of defence is activated. This is a non-specific attack on the virus/ bacteria by macrophages, whose job it is to seek and destroy. During this response inflammation is caused and a fever often accompanies. These are signs your body is attacking and getting rid of the virus/bacteria.
The third line of defence is where lymphocytes help produce specific B & T antibody cells. These cells are programmed to kill that specific germ only.
A well balanced diet is imperative to a well functioning immune system. Protein is integral to maintain good skin integrity, this allows for a stronger 1st line of defence.
Protein sources include: Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, quinoa, chickpeas to name a few.
An easy way to make sure you get a variety of nutrients is to include 5 different coloured vegetables or fruit into your daily eating plan.
3 Important Nutrients to Boost Your Immune System
Even though there are many factors that influence the function of the immune system, there are 3 nutrients that if deficeinet leads to an increased susceptibility to infection. These are Vitamin D, Vitamin C and Zinc.
Vitamin D aids immune function by aiding the production of macrophages (our 2nd line of defence) and has been shown to have anti-viral effects in recent research study’s, particularly useful in reducing the severity of respiratory symptoms. People with a deficiency of this vitamin may be seen to confer a higher risk to influenza and respiratory infections.
Vitamin D can be synthesised from the sun by the skin. As little as 15 minutes of sun on unprotected skin before 10am or after 3pm is needed 4 times a week to achieve recommended amounts. (This would need to be increased during winter slightly). Foods that have Vitamin D are cod liver oil, butter, egg yolk, fortified milk and foods.
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is a potent antioxidant used to support immune system function, in particular phagocytosis (2nd line of defence) and aids in white blood cells production.
Vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections. Vitamin C is found in blackcurrants, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, citrus fruits, pawpaw, pineapple, strawberry, tomato to name a few.
Zinc is integral to providing the strength to our immune system by supporting white blood cell production. Zinc is found in red meat, egg yolk, oysters, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and fish.
Naturopath / Nutritionist
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