Is it really possible to strengthen my immune system?
We live in a unique situation these days with social distancing and home confinement increasing our levels of stress and worry. The quality of our sleep is affected, our levels of exercise has decreased and making healthy choices becomes a more complicated task. All this contributes to reducing our natural defences at a time when they are particularly relevant.
Cancer patients are especially vulnerable as both disease and treatment can weaken the immune system and as a result, find it more difficult to fight infections than a healthy person.
Without a doubt, recommendations to avoid contagion should be our first priority, but can we also prepare to defend ourselves against infection if it occurs?
No specific food serves to prevent or combat the virus.
There are no immediate or miraculous answers, or a supplement or magic food that acts by itself, but there are certain general principles for maintenance of a healthy immune system. Maintaining good habits must be our first choice. Eating a healthy diet is essential to strengthen the immune system that protects the body from invading agents such as viruses. A good sleep pattern, not smoking, reduced drinking and daily exercise from the comfort of home are all good habits.
It is critical to take into account the vulnerability of the immune system during treatment. There is already a lot of evidence to show that complying with the recommendations helps recovery, contributes to better tolerating the treatment and reduces the side effects associated with it. So, the more committed you are and the more you practice a healthy lifestyle and specifically a “healthy” eating pattern, the better prepared your immune system in fighting disease and coping with treatment after infection. The sooner you start, the better.
What you eat plays a fundamental role in your defences.
Diet can be our best ally to strengthen defences as good nutrition helps prevent infections in the same way that poor nutrition weakens our immune system. It is the food we consume that provides us with energy and the nutrients necessary for the body to function normally and accurately. In addition, plant food provides us with that other set of non-essential substances – phytochemicals – which perform very important functions in our body related, among others, to immunity.
The way to obtain vitamins and minerals is through a varied diet.
All nutrients including water and food have an effect on the stability of the immune system at all stages of life. A truly healthy immune system depends on a balanced mix of vitamins and minerals maintained over time. Only in exceptional circumstances should supplements be resorted to, as there is no evidence that taking additional amounts of any vitamins improves your immune system or protects you if you are not deficient in micronutrients.
Essential nutrients for the immune system: Vitamins
An adequate vitamin intake is essential for the proper functioning of the immune system and following the recommended nutritional guidelines can help correct deficiencies that weaken our defence system. All vitamins are important, but some deserve special attention:
It is one of the biggest boosters of the immune system as it stimulates the production of antibodies. This key nutrient is found in foods like oranges, strawberries, papaya, lemons, kiwis, bell peppers, berries, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and brussel sprouts.
It has an antioxidant effect to help strengthen the immune system against infections. The foods that provide it are carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, butter, kale, spinach, pumpkin, some cheeses, eggs, apricots, and milk.
Ensuring sufficient levels of this vitamin is very important especially when social isolation is necessary. It maintains the immune system and has an especially relevant role in preventing pneumonia. We find it in fatty fish, dairy products, egg yolk and mushrooms.
It is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight infection, protecting biological membranes, counteracting the immunosuppressive actions of free radicals. We find it in green vegetables, nuts, avocado, vegetable oils and cereals.
It is vital to support biochemical reactions in the immune system. Foods rich in vitamin B6 include green vegetables, chickpeas, chicken, and fatty fish. Vitamin B9 is present in green leafy vegetables, spinach, swiss chard and in legumes. Vitamin B12 is found in red meat, eggs and clams.
Essential nutrients for immune system: 4 minerals
The minerals – selenium, zinc, magnesium, copper, among others – together with the fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins, promote proper development and maintenance of the immune system.
Selenium is essential for a correct immune response. Powerful effect on the immune system, including the potential to delay the body´s overactive responses to certain aggressive forms of cancer. You can find it in garlic, broccoli, sardines, tuna and brazil nuts.
Zinc helps to slow down the immune response and control inflammation in your body. It is found in lean meats and poultry, oysters, crab, yogurt, and chickpeas.
With a clear anti-inflammatory power, this mineral is found in avocado, nuts, vegetables and legumes, especially chickpeas.
A copper deficiency compromises the body´s immune function and defence mechanisms. It is present in legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and beans, and whole grains and nuts.
What combination of foods does our defence system need?
There are many food combinations that ensure the intake of everything our body needs as long as it is a combination of mostly vegetable foods that:
INCLUDE fruits and vegetables, preferably whole grains, legumes, nuts and also fish, lean meats, and eggs.
LIMIT ultra-high processed foods high in calories, sugar, or fat, and low in nutrients, sugary drinks, read, meat, and foods high in salt.
Examples of a combination of 15 foods that provide us with all the nutrients:
Citrus, red pepper, broccoli, spinach, yogurt, nuts, chickpeas, mushrooms, chicken, sunflower seeds, salmon, avocado, garlic, egg, and whole oats.
Is it a good time to make a commitment to our health?
This crisis is going to change many things in our daily lives and so why not our consumption habits? Health has become the main concern of each and every one of us. This is the ideal time, not only to reflect on our eating and eating habits but also to take action. Focus your efforts on what you have control over, and your health will thank you.