Your immune system is your body’s “defense team.” This well-organized squad is constantly at work defending your body against bacteria, viruses, parasites and other invaders. Even when you’re sleeping, your immune system is wide awake and ever vigilant. Just as every organ, tissue and cell needs energy to support their function, the cells and tissues that make up your immune system do too – and this comes from the food you eat and the supplements take. So, it’s not surprising that what you eat impacts how well your immune system does its job. What role does nutrition play in immune health?
The Importance of Energy Balance
You can throw your immune system “off balance” with dietary extremes – excessive over-consumption or under-consumption of calories. Studies looking at the effects of short-term, moderate calorie consumption on health are intriguing. In some species, calorie restriction of 10% to 30% prolongs lifespan. In fact, a human study showed calorie restriction of up to 30% for 6 months improved the function of T-cells, immune cells that play a number of vital roles in immune health. T-cells have the ability to kill cells infected by viruses or bacteria as well as destroy cancer cells. Sounds like a good cell to have around doesn’t it?
On the other hand, extreme calorie restriction, especially a reduction in dietary protein, can be harmful to your immune system. For example, people who suffer from eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and consume very low calorie diets are at increased risk for infection. Malnutrition of any type is linked with changes in activity of the thymus gland, the gland responsible for the maturation of immune cells. At the other end of the scale, a number of studies have linked obesity with increased susceptibility to infectious disease.
The take-home message? Your immune system functions best when you eat a nutritious, whole food diet. Mild calorie restriction may be beneficial, as long as you don’t take it to the extreme. Avoid going below 1200 calories daily, even if you’re trying to lose weight. When you restrict calories too much, you won’t get enough of the vitamins and minerals your immune system needs to defend you. Plus, immune cells need adequate amounts of glucose, protein and fatty acids from fats to do their job.
Deficiencies of specific nutrients have been linked with worsening of immune function. When you don’t consume enough of the antioxidant vitamins, vitamin A, C and E through diet, immune cells are more prone to damage due to oxidative stress. Sufficient quantities of B-vitamins, particularly vitamin B6 and B12, are also essential for healthy immune function. In terms of minerals, deficiencies of iron, zinc and selenium are most strongly linked with healthy immune function. Immune function declines with age, which may be partially due to the fact that older people eat less and may fall short of getting adequate quantities of the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy immune function.
The Bottom Line
Eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, preferably from whole foods, without overeating is the key to immune health from a dietary perspective. Watch your sugar intake and alcohol intake. One study showed dietary sugars reduced the activity of immune cells called neutrophils. Other research shows drinking more than 3 alcoholic drinks daily has damaging effects on immune function. Plus, downing excessive amounts of alcohol deprives your body of the B-vitamins your immune system needs to protect you.
If you’re dieting to lose weight or are eating a “fast food diet,” support your immune system with supplements. And the ultimate immune boosting supplement is BioPro-Plus™. If you want your immune system functioning at its peak 24/7 then you need to Click Here And Start Taking BioPro-Plus™ Today!
-Alternative Health Concepts
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J Nutr Health Aging. 2004;8(1):38-47.
EUFIC.org. “Nutrition and the Immune System”
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2003) 57, Suppl 1, S66-S69. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601819.
Am J Clin Nutr November 1973 vol. 26 no. 11 1180-1184.