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Immune Health 101

1. Adequate Protein

Adequate protein is crucial for optimal antibody production and low protein intake has been associated with an increased risk of infection. 

Amino acids have also been shown to improve intestinal barrier function which can enhance immune function.

 Choose high quality choices such as;

  • Free-Range Eggs
  • Wild-Caught Fish
  • Organic meats (e.g., poultry, grass-fed beef, wild game)
  • If tolerated, high quality dairy or grass-fed whey protein. 
  • Vegetarian/Vegan sources (organic tofu/tempeh, edamame, lentils or other legumes) 
  • Nuts/seeds (e.g., almonds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds)
  • High quality plant-based protein powder (such as pea or hemp protein)

2. Micronutrient Status

Many vitamins and minerals play a role in immune health and overall wellness, but I have highlighted a few specifics below that have particular research related to immunity. Key Takeaway – Eat a varied diet full of the colors of the rainbow.

Vitamin A – High in many orange and yellow fruits & vegetables (carrots, cantaloupe, mango), salmon & cod liver oil, eggs, and other beta-carotene rich foods such as dark green leafy vegetables.  

Vitamin C– More than just citrus! Vitamin C is also high in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, red/yellow/orange bell peppers, leafy greens, tomatoes and winter squash such as butternut or acorn squash! 

Vitamin D – High in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), liver, eggs, high quality full fat dairy and sunshine! 

Vitamin E – Consume things like avocado, nuts/seeds (sunflower, almonds), some oils (such as grapeseed), dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, swiss chard, beet greens) and Atlantic salmon. 

B Vitamins– Found in animal proteins such as beef, wild game, poultry, eggs and fish as well as whole grains (brown rice, millet, etc). Other sources include nuts/seeds and green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli). 

Zinc – highest in oysters but other sources include beans, nuts, other types of shellfish (lobster and crab), whole grains 

…as well as other minerals such as Copper, Iron, Magnesium and Selenium 

 

  3. Phytochemicals

  • Carotenoids have antioxidant properties and are found in many of the same fruits and vegetables that are high in Vitamin A (think yellow/orange and dark-green leafy vegetables).Some examples include spinach, kale and cantaloupe.  Some are precursors for Vitamin A and also have a positive impact on the immune system as they are directly related to Vitamin A status. 

  • Polyphenols have been linked to both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. They are in highest concentrations in our dark berries (blueberries, strawberries) and can have a positive impact on our gut microbiota. Other sources with high amounts include cocoa and teas (especially black and green tea). 

  • Quercetin (a type of flavonoid) has been studied for anti-viral properties and also can reduce potential histamine-mediated reactions in the body. Quercetin can be found in foods such as apples, blueberries olive oil and parsley.

4. Support Overall Gut Health

Incorporate pre and probiotic-rich food sources to stimulate short chain fatty acids in the gut, which have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect. 
  •  Prebiotics: asparagus, artichokes, garlic, onions, banana (on the greener side), apples, flax seed, jicama
  • Probiotics: fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt with live & active cultures

 

5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 Fatty Acids have some of the most potent anti-inflammatory properties. Unfortunately, most people consuming a Standard American Diet have much more omega-6 fats in their diet compared to omega-3’s, putting them into a PRO-inflammatory state. Shift the ratio of omega-3:omega-6 but adding in some of the foods below; 

  • SMASH Fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines and Herring) 
  • Olives and olive oil 
  • Walnuts, chia, hemp and flaxseeds 
  • Best sources for vegans/vegetarians include sea vegegtables and microalgae

6. Sleep & Exercise

  • Sleep – while sleep needs may differ from person-to-person, most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Adequate QUALITY as well as QUANTITY is necessary for immune function.
    • Adequate sleep duration can improve infection outcomes and is associated with reduced infectious disease risk.
    • Many diseases are comorbid with sleep disturbances and proper sleep hygeine may have a beneficial effect on the severity and progression of the disease.
  • Exercise- Epidemiological evidence indicates that regular physical activity reduces the incidence of many chronic diseases (including viral, bacterial and non-non-communicable diseases such as cancer and chronic inflammatory disorders). 

Key Takeaways:

-Eat mostly nutrient-dense, whole foods
Avoid sugars and refined starches (like pastas, breads, sweets, crackers, etc.) 
Consume adequate protein, from organic animal protein or plant-based sources
Use lots of anti-inflammatory spices while cooking such as rosemary, thyme, cilantro, parsley, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, etc. 
Get plenty of color (eat the colors of the rainbow each day) – include fruits and vegetables high in Vitamin C, A, and foods high in Zinc and Vitamin D
-Incorporate pre and probiotic-rich food sources
  •  Prebiotics: asparagus, artichokes, garlic, onions, banana (on the greener side), apples, flax seed, jicama
  • Probiotics: fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt with live & active cultures

…AND I CAN’T STRESS ENOUGH – MOVE YOUR BODY DAILY AND PRACTICE GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE 

References:

Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M. The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease. Physiol Rev. 2019;99(3):1325-1380. doi:10.1152/physrev.00010.2018

Campbell, J. P., & Turner, J. E. (2018). Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan. Frontiers in immunology9, 648. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2018.00648

Iddir M, Brito A, Dingeo G, et al. Strengthening the Immune System and Reducing Inflammation and Oxidative Stress through Diet and Nutrition: Considerations during the COVID-19 Crisis. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1562. Published 2020 May 27. doi:10.3390/nu12061562

Lange T, Dimitrov S, Born J. Effects of sleep and circadian rhythm on the human immune system. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010;1193:48-59. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05300.x

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