During the months when days are shorter and temperatures are cooler athletes oftentimes complete their swims indoors, participate in indoor cycling sessions, and utilize treadmills… indoors. The combination of reduced sunlight exposure and increased germ contacts can be a recipe for disaster for a potentially weakened immune system. Kinney Multisport had several athletes the past several months that repeatedly got sick and challenges to abandon those symptoms. We thought we provide you with a short post and simple recommendations on possible improvements to overcome the germ warriors. Read More ...
Overall, our immune system does a notable job of defending us against disease-causing microorganisms. There are occasions though where our system fails, germ attacks are taking over and making us sick. Is it possible to improve the immune system via diets, vitamins, herbs? Let’s take a look.
Can you enhance the immune system?
Improving the immune system sounds tempting but it is proven that this is an indefinable possibility for several reasons. The immune system exactly is that: a system and not a distinct entity. It functions well in balance and harmony but there is still much research that can’t explain in detail when it comes to the difficulties of resistance response. Be skeptical … You will find many products on store shelves that claim to boost your immunity but scientifically this is not well supported. Enhancing the immune system is complicated because there are many different kinds of cells within the system that react to many different microbes in many ways. Therefore, which ones should you boost and to what extent? Scientist don’t even have the answer for the best mix of cells the immune system needs to function at its optimum level. How can Super Product Cold Fighter “X” on the store shelf provide it…?
What about your daily diet?
The immune system runs on the stomach/gut and needs good, regular nourishment. There is evidence that deficiency in some micronutrients such as zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E alter our immune response. If you question your diet, and think it is not providing you with the micronutrients you need because you might not like veggies or prefer white over whole grain bread, a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement can provide health benefits. But don’t take mega doses because that does not help. When it comes to herbs and other supplements and their enhancing support to the immune system it has not been scientifically proven whether substances raise the levels of antibodies in the blood or provide any benefit to overall immunity.
What is it about Vitamin D and the immune system?
Vitamin D plays different roles in the body—bone health, cancer prevention, blood pressure regulation, muscle function, etc.—but a major key contribution is to the immune system. One theory is that the common cold and flu spike during the winter months is because that’s when we tend to be low in vitamin D. So, is there an optimal level? Per the Journal of Exercise Immunology Review, from Neil Walsh at the University of Bangor, those with at least 75 mmol/liter seem to have a stronger immune function and are less likely to get infections. Actual intervention studies where individuals were given vitamin D supplements to achieve that level have so far failed to lower infection rates and the conclusion isn’t final at this point. We’ll see what further research shows. Interesting information provided in the study was the practical recommendations for maintaining good vitamin D levels:
- In the summer, aim for about 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure daily.
- During the winter, the recommendation is to get 1000 IU per day. You can get some of that from food but it would be very difficult to get all of it depending on where you live and Vitamin D supplements in moderation are beneficial.
Nutritional Take away
Help protect yourself against infection and boost your immunity by including these nutrients in your daily eating plan. These recommendations may offer protection from seasonal illness, such as the flu:
- Protein is part of the body's defense mechanism. Eat a variety of protein rich foods including seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products and unsalted (or lightly salted) nuts and seeds.
- Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and protects us from infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy. Get this immune-boosting vitamin from foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, eggs or foods labeled "vitamin A fortified," such as milk or cereal.
- Vitamin C boosts immunity. Include more of this healthy vitamin in your diet with citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, or red bell pepper, papaya, strawberries, tomato juice or foods fortified with vitamin C, such as some cereals.
- Vitamin D to be found in salmon, egg yolk, sardines, mackerel.
- Vitamin E works as an antioxidant, neutralizes free radicals and may improve immune function. Include vitamin E in your diet with fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil), hazelnuts, peanut butter or spinach.
- Zinc helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal. Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans and nuts.
- Other nutrients, including Vitamin B6 (bananas, tuna, avocado, walnuts, spinach, oats, potatoes), selenium (seafood, brown rice, quinoa, milk, mushrooms, barley) and iron (soybeans, lentils, spinach, potatoes, beef, cashews, prunes, garbanzo/kidney beans) also may influence immune response.
Some ‘eat up’ examples:
- Add milk to your coffee, top your salad with canned fish, or make a veggie-packed omelet (yolk included!) - for Vitamin D.
- Serve roasted squash with greens and avocado (fat will help your body absorb vitamin A) or serve as a butternut squash soup - for Vitamin A.
- Sprinkle almonds on oatmeal or cereal, or toss into trail mix - for Vitamin E.
- A good way to sneak veggies into your diet is to blend them right into your smoothie or add a handful of colorful produce to every meal such as kale, beets, berries, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers - for minerals like zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and Vitamins A, B6, C, and E.