Eating For Immunity
Though we don’t know enough about COVID-19, it’s impact on the nervous system is clear. Reports have linked coronavirus cases with strokes, seizures and loss of smell. But there’s only so much we can do to protect ourselves until a vaccine is available. As the disease spreads, self-isolation and handwashing are increasingly important defenses that keep viral infections at bay. For most people, it’s impossible to control exposure 100 percent. What are some other ways we can help our body’s immune response? A healthy diet—one that’s 75 percent plant-based, with minimally processed foods. Eating for immunity is an important way to maintain long term health as we weather this epidemic. Diet plays a significant role in the body’s ability to fight off disease and recover. Nutrient deficiencies can increase disease susceptibility, severity, and lengthen the recovery process. Consuming a whole foods diet can also aid recovery for sufferers of brain injury or anxiety. Eating for immunity is a practical way to take control of your health.
The Immune System
Our immune system is like an army, defending the body from outside invaders. The innate immune system is the leading defender, acting quickly to stop unwelcome pathogens. These defenders are present in your skin, saliva, GI and respiratory tracts, and more. The adaptive immune system works to detect pathogens that the innate immune system missed. Over time, it develops antibodies to protect against those dangerous pathogens.
Our bodies need a varied diet to create and fuel the immune system. Whole foods supply the vitamins and antioxidants necessary to fight disease. While supplements can be an option, they don’t provide the fiber needed to feed our gut microbiome. 80 percent of immune cells live in the digestive tract, making it an integral part of the body’s health.
Eating a nutrient dense diet becomes even more important as we age. Older people are less efficient at absorbing vitamins and minerals. Aging also weakens immune responses. Many elderly people have chronic low-level inflammation and underlying health conditions. These conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, are also comorbidities of COVID-19. Chronic inflammation has also been linked to Alzheimer’s and certain cancers. Whole foods contain antioxidants, which decrease inflammation. Antioxidants protect cells and tissues from damaging free radicals produced by immune responses.
The human body doesn’t change overnight. For the immune system to run well, a healthy diet must be implemented long term. Below are food groups to support a well-functioning immune system.
Fruits & Veggies
Variation in diet includes eating an assortment of fruits and veggies on a daily basis.
Incorporate a mix of colors, fresh, frozen, canned—all will do! Aim to consume two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables daily. Fruits and veggies contain lots of vitamin A, C, some B vitamins, as well as antioxidants. Vitamin A is necessary for healthy skin and GI-tract cells. Vitamin B is required to make new immune cells and initiate immune responses. Fruits and vegetables also contain polyphenols, antioxidants that feed healthy gut bacteria. Polyphenols work to calibrate pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are chemical messengers that allow immune cells to communicate. In severe coronavirus cases resulting in death, pro-inflammatory cytokines storm the body. Elderberries are high in antioxidants, giving immune systems a boost and decreasing inflammation.
Without the addition of healthy fats, the absorption of vitamins is hampered. Healthy fats are an essential component of a healthy diet. They include nuts, seeds, avocados, fish, olive, flaxseed or canola oils. Adding healthy oil to salad aids absorption of vitamin A and other nutrients.
These fats also decrease inflammation and regulate immune cell activity. Olive oil has been linked to decreases in chronic illness due to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Depending on the type consumed, healthy fats also contain vital nutrients like selenium, vitamin E, zinc, iron, and magnesium.
Eating a handful of sunflower seeds provides a daily serving of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Sunflower seeds also contain zinc, an essential mineral. Zinc deficiencies have been linked globally to lower respiratory infections. Meanwhile, almonds contain copper and magnesium, two minerals responsible for DNA repair and antibody production.
Nuts and seeds are nutritional powerhouses, supplying protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and fats. Next time you have a salad , consider sprinkling some on top!
Whole Grains & Legumes
Anti-inflammatory whole grains and legumes contain fiber that keep intestinal bacterial well fed. Not only do they contain plenty of vital nutrients, like folate, zinc, copper, magnesium, selenium and iron, they also regulate inflammation. Replacing refined grains with whole grains can result in weight-loss among overweight individuals. Obesity and many other diseases linked to chronic inflammation are comorbidities of COVID-19. The importance of swapping to healthier alternatives becomes increasingly evident the more we learn about diet and its connection to health.
Meat & Dairy
Animal products can be a great source of hard-to-find nutrients. Vitamin B12 and zinc are examples of vitamins and minerals that become more accessible through animal products. Protein also contributes to the formation of new immune cells.
Red meat is pro-inflammatory, making lean meats and seafood superior options. Eaten a few times per week, lean meats and poultry supply plenty of vitamin B, iron, selenium, and zinc. Seafood delivers anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, along with magnesium and zinc, which support healthy immune system functioning. Seafood and fortified dairy products are also great sources of vitamin D, which is difficult to get enough of. Vitamin D has been linked to improved immune functioning and defense against upper respiratory infections. Probiotic bacteria found in dairy, like goat yogurt, contributes to the wellbeing of a healthy intestinal microbiome. Studies have shown probiotics to prevent upper respiratory tract infections and improve recovery.
Whole foods are the best way to increase uptake of vital nutrients. These are necessary for a well-functioning immune system. Eating for immunity is easy to do once you have knowledge about what swaps to make. Overdosing on supplements can stress the liver, among other negative health consequences. Take control of your health by eating for immunity. There is a Way!®
5 Prong Approach
Nutrition is just one aspect of health that falls under my 5 Prong Approach. The 5 Prong Approach is an evaluation of five interconnected facets used to diagnose and treat my patients. Using this integrative method, the whole individual is examined to understand symptoms from 5 distinct perspectives: physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual and energy. Dr. Diane®’s integrative team of brain health experts specialize in a variety of services using the best practices in complementary, alternative, and conventional medicine, including nutrition, neurofeedback, reiki, acupuncture, homeopathy, speech and language pathology, and more
If you would like to schedule a consult with Dr. Diane or receive treatment from any members of Dr. Diane’s Integrative Team of Health Experts…