THE BODY’S DEFENCES CAN BE STRENGTHENED WITH A HEALTHY, VARIED AND CONSISTENT, ACCORDING TO THE SEASONS, DIET, WHICH OFFER US THROUGHOUT THE YEAR A TREASURE OF VITAMINS.
Author Dr.Davide Maged MSc, Ph.D. in Biomedical Science and Public Health, Department of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Rome (Italy)
Since birth, we have been exposed to continuous attacks by bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. Without an effective “shield”, each of us would soon succumb to infectious diseases and cancer.
In the fight against microbial agents, we are able to protect ourselves thanks to a complex arsenal of defense measures, called in its entirety as the immune system.
In the fetus, which is under development, and in our first months of life, nutrition plays an essential role in the development of the immune system.
It has long been known that malnourished children have a high risk of serious and even fatal infections. The lack of calories and proteins has a negative effect on the immune system.
Mental anorexia is also linked to a deficiency of this system. Even slimming regimens with a daily protein-calorie intake of less than 1200 calories can weaken immune functions and this is a good reason to avoid too drastic and inevitably unbalanced dietary regimens.
On the other hand, even an excessive supply of energy can compromise the ability of the immune system to fight infections; obesity is linked to a greater sensitivity to infections and some types of neoplasms. Diets with a high-fat content seem to be able to reduce the effectiveness of immune reactions; a correct intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (contained in bluefish, nuts, soybean oil, and seed oil) strengthens our defenses. Throughout life, certain nutrients are needed to promote a good immune response.
Zinc, copper, selenium, vitamins A, B6, C and E all play key roles in maintaining optimal immune functions. Most of these nutrients are found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and oilseeds.
To date, most studies show that mineral supplements and vitamins are not necessary to stimulate a particular immune reaction in healthy and well-nourished individuals. Regular consumption of fermented dairy products such as yogurt or kefir (produced by fermenting milk with a flora composed of yeasts and lactic acid bacteria) can strengthen the immune system.
Recent studies reveal the usefulness of using fermented milk with some bacteria called probiotics.
ANTIOXIDANTS AND IMMUNE FUNCTION
Immune cells can be damaged by exposure to oxygen, a process called oxidation, which produces highly harmful components called free radicals.
An adequate supply of antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E, and minerals such as zinc, selenium, and magnesium can help prevent this damage.
The balance between antioxidants and oxidants in the diet is very important for the function of immune cells and therefore to prevent infections and cancer. The need for optimal intake of antioxidant nutrients to maintain a healthy immune system is especially relevant in the elderly. The so-called immunosenescence is partly responsible for age-related diseases. In this particular population, a daily supplementation with 50 mg of beta-carotene over a period of 10-12 years improves the function of the immune cells, as demonstrated by two recent scientific studies.
FOODS THAT STRENGTHEN THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Nature provides us with the energy we need, but food should be consumed at the right time of the year, so as to stimulate the body’s defenses and improve our vitality. Whole-grain cereals, legumes, seeds
oilseeds, honey, vegetables, fresh yeast, wheat germ ensure an excellent supply of immunoprotective vitamins of the B group. Vitamin C, on the other hand, is found in pomegranate, raw sweet peppers, kiwi, arugula, dandelion, strawberries, red cabbage, berries, citrus fruits, green leaves of leeks and spring onions. Fresh green vegetables such as spinach, arugula, chicory, mauve, nettle and yellow-orange vegetables and fruits such as pumpkins, carrots, melons, and apricots are rich in precious beta-carotene. This nutrient is best absorbed if associated with the fats of extra virgin olive oil. Mineral salts should not be missing in the immunostimulant diet, especially iron, zinc, selenium found in fresh brewer’s yeast, tuna, herring, oysters, mollusks, broccoli, wheat germ, onions, cabbages, tomatoes, whole grains, oilseeds, legumes, mushrooms, molasses, dried figs.
In addition, do not miss the raw garlic crushed and seasoned with extra virgin olive oil.
Watermelons and tomatoes are also rich in lycopene, an important nutrient with multiple beneficial anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and therefore effective for the prevention of atherosclerosis and to improve immune responses.