Our immune system does a fantastic job of defending us against microorganisms that cause illnesses and diseases. Still, it may fail from time to time, in which case an infectious germ would invade and make us sick.
So, is there anything you can do to boost your immune system? Does eating nourishing foods rich in vitamins can help you produce a remarkable immune response?
Before we tell you some of the best vitamins for your immune health and where to find them, let’s explain how the immune system works.
How Does the Immune System Work?
The immune system is a complex defense system made up of a network of organs, tissues, molecules, and cells working together to protect your body. To work properly, it needs to make a difference between your body’s cells and foreign substances or invaders such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, and toxins.
Your body’s cells and tissues have self-antigens, just like infection-causing living organisms. However, these foreign antigens are different than the antigens of your body. So, it’s your immune system’s job to mark them and help the antigens to target the invading germs and kill them quickly, thus protecting your health.
Boosting Your Immune System Through Diet
Your entire body, including your immune system, works better when bolstered by eating healthy. This includes a diet rich in immune-boosting nutrients. Key soldiers in the fight against infection include certain vitamins found in specific foods like fruits and vegetables.
The reason why these nutrients help boost the immune system is that they are antioxidants which help prevent free radical damage. Free radicals damage the genetic material and healthy cells, making the viruses’ job easier while compromising the immune system.
So, which vitamins are crucial to keep your immune system healthy and even improve it?
Vitamins to Boost Your Immune System
Here are the best vitamins for your immune system and where to find them:
Lack of this vitamin can make you prone to many infections and illnesses. The reason why it’s important to take this vitamin is because your body doesn’t naturally produce it. Therefore, you have to get it from your diet or vitamin C supplements.
The best food sources of this vitamin include bell peppers, broccoli, kale, oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, and strawberries. As you can see, there are plenty of foods high in vitamin C, so unless your doctor recommends taking supplements, you are good as long as you eat enough of these foods.
The reason why this vitamin is important for your immune system is because it supports its biochemical reactions. In fact, it’s part of over 150 enzyme reactions which help your body process the fat, carbs, and protein you eat.
You can find vitamin B6 in foods such as tuna, salmon, chicken, green vegetables, and hummus.
This vitamin is an antioxidant which helps support the immune system and fight free radicals. Studies have shown that it’s especially beneficial for maintaining the immune system in older adults.
Some of the foods that contain plenty of vitamin E include seeds, nuts, broccoli, spinach, vegetable oils, etc.
Vitamin D maintains a healthy immune system and regulates the absorption of phosphorus and calcium. Your body produces it in response to direct sunlight. But, you can also get it through diet and supplements. Not many foods contain vitamin D naturally, so it has been added to many others.
You can find it in sardines, salmon, shrimp, egg yolk, fortified cereal, fortified milk, fortified yogurt, and fortified orange juice.
How to Choose Your Groceries to Support Your Immune System
In general, the more colorful vegetables and fruits you choose, the better. According to Julia Zumpano, a registered dietitian, you should eat vegetables and fruits in the colors of the rainbow. Only in that way you will get as many immune-boosting nutrients and vitamins as possible.
So, make sure you follow a healthy, well-balanced diet and consume plenty of different fruits and vegetables for optimal health.
Are Supplements Helpful for Your Immunity?
Supplements may help you get the vitamins and nutrients you lack, but food is still the best source for all the nutrients your immune system needs. That’s because your body absorbs and uses nutrients and vitamins better when they come from a natural source.
What’s more, the effects of supplements on the body and their quality is not evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration as they aren’t regulated as drugs, but as foods.
Therefore, it’s possible that some of them may come with certain side effects, especially when taken with other medication or before surgery. Also, their effects on certain groups like pregnant women or children may still not be tested.
For example, experts recommend avoiding taking vitamin E supplements because they may be harmful in certain situations.
That’s why it’s best to get all the vitamins your body needs through food instead of supplements. But, if you think you may need an additional boost from supplements, make sure you talk to your doctor first.
The immune system works 24/7 to protect your body from different infections and diseases. So, the least you can do is help boost its function by eating a healthy diet rich in immune-boosting vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin C, E, D, and B6.