Now, more than ever, we are experiencing the importance of a strong immune system. It’s our body's natural defense mechanism that keeps us safe and healthy from harmful viruses and bacteria. A weak immune system can lead to a higher risk of experiencing infections and severe symptoms. Strengthening your immune system is not only beneficial during the winter, but also important throughout the year. This will ensure your immune system is always prepared to offer protection against viruses or an infection.
Why should we be concerned about our immune systems’ strength? Nutrition and Stress. As we progress through life, many of us face an increased pressure from school, work, personal relationships, and financial commitments. We find that this increased pressure results in individuals (a) not eating a well-balanced diet due to time restrictions (more fast food, processed foods, etc.) and (b) experiencing an increased level of stress. Psychological research suggests that chronic stress is harmful to our immune systems, resulting in an increased risk of infection and lower energy levels, as our bodies' “fight or flight” mechanism reallocates energy to physical efforts, limiting the energy available for its immune system.
While it is difficult to control the bacteria, viruses, and overall stress that we encounter on a daily basis, we can control the foods that we eat to boost our immune system. Here are five vitamins and minerals to strengthen your immune system:
This formidable infection fighter comes from preformed animal proteins such as fish, meat, dairy and from certain plant carotenoids. The recommended daily intake of vitamin A is 900 micrograms (mcg) for adult men and 700 mcg for adult women. When it comes to plant based sources, go colourful with:
Fun fact: Vitamin A is used in topical creams to reduce fine wrinkles, splotches and roughness as well as treating acne.
“The citrus savior,” Vitamin C is one of the biggest immune system boosters. It may help prevent infections or shorten their stay. Vitamin C is vital to your body’s healing process. Citrus foods such as oranges and grapefruit are standouts, but here are a few other good sources:
Fun fact: Most people get enough vitamin C from a balanced diet. Too much vitamin C can cause side effects, including headaches, sleepiness or heartburn.
Known as the “sunshine vitamin” because we require sunlight to produce it, and it's a little more difficult to get sufficient amounts of food. Vitamin D deficiency can increase the chances of catching a virus, getting your dosage of this vitamin can prevent this effect from happening. Food sources are limited but include:
Fun fact: Vitamin D reduces depression (regulating mood and warding off depression).
A powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight infection. Specialized dietician Lisa Burnett says “Vitamin E can improve the immune response during aging and suggest to reduce symptoms that may contribute to cancer.” To get your vitamin E, think high-fat plant foods such as:
Fun fact: Vitamin E is key for healthy skin and eyes.
Zinc is necessary to produce new immune cells and help metabolism function. The daily amount of zinc is 8 milligrams (mg) for women and 11 mg for adult men. Here are a few great sources:
Fun fact: During pregnancy, infancy, and childhood, the body needs zinc to grow and develop properly.
Create healthy habits that can be the foundation of long term wellness. Make sure your diet is varied and well-balanced. The goal is to consume lots of vitamins and minerals without too many calories from sugar and fat. This can be supported through vitamin supplementation. We are now aware that a well balanced diet helps strengthen our immune system, but in order to achieve a healthy lifestyle getting adequate sleep and exercising regularly will help your body including your immune system function better overall.
American Psychology Association. (2006, February 23). Stress Weakens the Immune System. Retrieved January 1, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune
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Hojyo, S., & Fukada, T. (2016). Roles of Zinc Signaling in the Immune System. Journal of immunology research, 2016, 6762343. https://doi-org.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/10.1155/2016/6762343
Mayo Clinic. (2020, November 17). Vitamin C. Retrieved January 1, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-c/art-20363932
Mayo Clinic. (2020, November 13). Vitamin A. Retrieved January 1, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-a/art-20365945
Publishing, H. (2012). How to boost your immune system. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system
Ratini, M. (2020, March 25). Vitamin E for Healthy Immune System, Skin, and Eyes. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/diet/supplement-guide-vitamin-e