Immune Up: Supporting the Body’s Natural Defenses with Nutrition
Article by: Lisa Tsakos R.H.N.
Since the pandemic, protecting our health and well-being has become a top priority. We are more concerned than ever about strengthening the body’s defenses to fight off pathogens and reduce inflammation. A strong immune system acts like a natural firewall against illnesses. Good nutrition can help support the body’s immune responses. While no specific food or dietary supplement has been proven to kill viruses, including the coronavirus, certain nutrients play key roles in supporting the body’s defense mechanisms:
Vitamin A plays a critical role in enhancing immune function and may reduce the severity of respiratory infections. A deficiency in this potent antioxidant can lead to increased levels of pro-inflammatory molecules that reduce the immune system’s response. Regularly include foods rich in vitamin A (fish, butter and eggs) and beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A—sweet potato, carrots, cantaloupe, and butternut squash.
As we come out of winter, many are chronically low in vitamin D. Epidemiological studies have shown that people with low vitamin D levels have a higher risk of acute respiratory tract infection and community-spread pneumonia. Daily supplementation of minimum 1,000 IU daily may reduce the risk of developing a respiratory tract infection.
Zinc has been shown to effectively block viruses from multiplying in the throat and nasopharynx. Food sources of zinc include oysters, eggs, beef, some beans, and pumpkin seeds. Zinc supplements can be taken when you begin to feel any symptoms associated with a cold or flu. Supplementation should be temporary, however, as zinc can limit absorption of other nutrients including iron and calcium.
Your gut has its own immune system. This system works with the rest of your body to fight off pathogens that cause infection or disease. Your diet directly and immediately impacts the microbiome. To protect your microbiome, consume a variety of probiotic foods. These include Greek yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented vegetables, kombucha, tempeh and miso. When these foods are not available, take a probiotic supplement. Prebiotic foods feed healthy microbes. Add chia seed, dandelion greens, chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks, onions, garlic, asparagus and bananas to your diet.
Vitamin C is one of the most important nutrients for the immune system and is vitally important to protecting the respiratory tract. While many foods provide vitamin C, it is easily destroyed by cooking, freezing and exposure to air. Consume vitamin C-rich foods—like citrus, strawberries and spinach—raw. When these foods are limited, oral supplements are effective. To maximize absorption of vitamin C, take moderate amounts (about 500 mg) every 3 to 5 hours.
Stress affects mental health and can compromise immune function. Many remote workers report struggling with their mental health. If stress is unmanageable, in addition to stress management techniques, try adaptogenic herbs in tincture form. Adaptogenic herbs, which include ashwaganda, schizandra, holy basil, Siberian ginseng and rhodiola, modulate stress responses, enhance energy production, sleep quality and improve immune function.
For More Information on how you can become a Natural Nutrition Coach, NNC, and to enroll in our FREE Course Preview click HERE. The course Preview contains the first Section of our Nutrition Module that you can download and our Food Mood and Activity Journal, yours to keep!
Lisa Tsakos, R.H.N. is a nationally recognized holistic nutritionist, educator and author specializing in weight management and corporate nutrition programs. Lisa is a co-author of the Natural Nutrition Coach® program.