Our immune system is an intricate
system of defenses that distinguishes between foreign substances within the
body from healthy cells, when properly functioning. However a weakened immune
system can be overpowered by pathogens, bacteria and viruses leaving the body
vulnerable to disease, infection and illness. Additionally, our body is
affected by free radicals, atoms with unpaired electrons that are highly
reactive and cause damage to healthy cells. Free radicals are believed to be
involved in degenerative diseases, the aging process and cancers especially
when allowed to run free in the body. Free radicals can cause a breakdown in
the body’s immune system leaving it susceptible to infection.
One way to neutralize free radicals
is by introducing antioxidants into the body through the food that we eat.
Antioxidants limit the damage done by free radicals and boost the immune system
by increasing the production of white blood cells, which fight off infection in
the body. They also help immune cells to fight foreign pathogens more
efficiently and eliminate non-functioning cells from the body as well.
Antioxidants can be mainly found in fresh fruits and vegetables and should be
consumed on a daily basis. Next time you are feeling run down, have a cold or
the flu, or fighting off an infection, turn to these antioxidants to get your
body back on track.
Vitamin C tops the list of immune boosting antioxidants, because it is the most potent vitamin to increase the body’s immune system. It is the most well known antioxidant, especially when a cold or flu sneaks up on you. The reason that most people turn to vitamin C rich foods during times of illness is because it encourages increased immune system protection. Vitamin C helps the body in two ways; it detects any sign of infection, bacteria or virus, and then rids the body of them. Vitamin C increases the production of infection fighting white blood cells and antibodies. It increases the levels of interferon in the body, an antibody that coats cell surfaces. This protects cells from being attacked by a virus. As an antioxidant vitamin C reduces free radicals in the body. Free radicals damage cells and are responsible for a wide variety of medical conditions ranging from the common cold to cancer. Vitamin C is also a major component in collagen, that’s why vitamin C is such an important antioxidant for anti aging. Skin is the body’s first line of defense against invading organisms, and is made up of collagen. Collagen prevents pathogens from getting inside the body. Without vitamin C collagen weakens allowing the skin to become vulnerable to viruses and bacteria. Vitamin C has additional benefits to the body including lowering blood pressure, raising the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and interfering with the process which fat is converted to plaque, which in turn reduces the risk for cardiovascular disease. Vitamin C is also associated with lower rates of colon, prostate and breast cancer. Only 200 mg of vitamin C daily is need to enhance the body’s immunity. That is equal to 6 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Additionally high doses of vitamin C taken at the onset of a cold have been known to decrease the severity of the symptoms.
Vitamin E much like vitamin C is an antioxidant that boosts the immune system. Vitamin E stimulates the production of natural killer cells and B cells; both are part of the body’s first line of defense. These cells seek out and destroy germ cells and cancer cells. B cells are also the immune cells that product antibodies to destroy bacteria. Because of vitamin E’s antioxidant attributes it has shown some reversal in immune system decline that associated with aging. Unlike vitamin C, if too much vitamin E is consumed it can actually be toxic and have the opposite effect on the immune system. Between 100-400 mg a day of vitamin E is the recommended amount, however this amount changes based on ones lifestyle. People who smoke, don’t exercise or consume alcohol may need higher doses of vitamin E. On the other hand if you eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, avoid drugs; cigarettes and alcohol smaller doses may be adequate. With vitamin E unlike many of its other immune boosting counterparts it’s hard to consume more than 60 mg through ones diet alone, therefore supplementation may be necessary. Consult a doctor before taking any vitamin E supplement to determine the appropriate dosing amounts.
Carotenoids is a large group of antioxidants, most notable known is beta carotene which in the body is converted to vitamin A. beta carotene increase the production of infection fighting cells such as natural killer cells and T-cell lymphocytes. It also enhances the ability of these cells to attack foreign pathogens. Carotenoids are potent antioxidants that have been used to help protect against cancer by stimulating macrophages to kill cancer cells by producing tumor necrosis factor. Carotenoids reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease by reducing the ability for fat and cholesterol to become arterial plaque.
Vitamin A has immune boosting abilities and anticancer properties. Although, beta-carotene can be converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A can also be consumed on its own. If the body already has enough vitamin A then it will stop converting beta-carotene and use it elsewhere. Vitamin A has many immune boosting functions. For starter it enhances the function of white blood cells as the immune system cellular defense. It also enhances the resistance to infection and carcinogens. Vitamin A also builds up the body’s skin and mucus membranes to defend against infection. Too much vitamin A can be toxic so consult a physician before starting any supplements.
Bioflavonoids are a group of phytonutrients that come from plants and protect the body from environmental pollutants. Bioflavonoids boost the immune system by blocking the entry to cells in the body. When pollutants invade the body they attach to receptor sites on the outside of cells then eat through the membrane. Bioflavonoids fill up these receptor sites blocking toxins from entering and destroying cells. Bioflavonoids reduce cholesterols ability to form plaque, which leads to heart attack and stroke, and reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Quercetin is a phytochemical that fights inflammation and reduces allergies. Luteolin another bioflavonoid, fights against inflammatory conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Catechins are flavenoids found in tea reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will provide the body with a wide variety of bioflavonoids. Eat 6 servings of fruits and vegetables a day to get the recommended daily allowance.
Zinc is a trace mineral needed in the body to help boost the immune system. Zinc increases the production of white blood cells and helps them fight off infection. With the increased production of white blood cells more antibodies are released to destroy toxins. Zinc also increased the production of killer cells to fight against cancer, and slow their growth. Zinc should be taken in moderation since too much can actually inhibit immune function. The best way to consume zinc is through ones diet. The recommended daily allowance is 15-25 mg a day.
Selenium is another trace mineral used to enhance the immune system. Selenium increases the production of natural killer cells. It enhances the mobilization of cancer fighting cells. Even though selenium is a mineral it is also an antioxidant, which helps to destroy free radicals from damaging cells. Selenium deficiency may allow viruses to mutate into more damaging pathogens. The recommended daily amount of selenium is 50-200mcg a day and is recommended to take in conjunction with vitamin E.