Here's what a new study finds.
In light of the recent COVID-19 crisis, the question of what’s the best way to protect the immune system seems to be on everyone’s mind, more or less.
For this reason, a group of scientists from Luxemburg, Russia, France, and the USA, have conducted a study on how diet and nutrition could influence and strengthen the immune system, especially given that some of the restrictions that were imposed around the world could hamper the everyday routine and influence choices around diet.
What’s Important: Certain nutrients have a very important role in the body’s response to inflammation and oxidative stress, and they could help the immune system protect itself, as well as promote overall health in the long run.
Why Does It Matter: Macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbs), micronutrients (vitamins, minerals), and phytonutrients (polyphenols, carotenoids), are all known to influence the body’s resistance to pathogens, and also serve as an adjuvant therapy in the management of disease or infection, in some cases.
Having a healthy diet could significantly decrease the risk of infection, especially at this point when protecting your body and boosting your immunity through nutrition is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself.
Here are the details of the research:
The Importance of Macronutrients
These scientists have concluded that a diet rich in proteins is essential in keeping your immunity in check because of their role in producing antibodies that fight the inflammation caused by infection.
According to them, the best sources of protein are those of high biological value, meaning those that contain essential amino acids, such as eggs, fish, lean meat, legumes, and dairy proteins.
They indicate that low-protein intake, below the recommended 0.8 g/kg body weight, could result in a decreased amount of functional active immunoglobulins, and consequently, a lowered immunity defense against infection.
Similarly, the omega-3 fatty acids have a major influence on your body’s response to pathogens. The body can’t synthesize omega-3 itself, so you need to obtain it through nutrition.
The study indicates that the intake of these fatty acids from fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, and other seafood, as well as sources like nuts and seeds, triggers an anti-inflammatory response and a reduction of pro-inflammatory agents.
For example, they mention that supplementation with omega-3 significantly helped alleviate symptoms in patients with rheumatic diseases who had strong chronic inflammation.
When it comes to carbohydrates, this group of scientists came to the conclusion that complex carbohydrates, like the dietary fiber found in whole grains, are an important factor regarding the body’s response to inflammation.
Namely, they lower the level of the C-reactive protein which is produced in the liver in response to inflammation.
In addition, dietary fiber promotes gut health, which in turn lowers both gut and whole-body inflammation. It also increases the diversity of gut microbiota and health-related bacteria, like Bifidobacterium spp. and Lactobacillus spp., which have been known to fight against viral infections.
- Vitamins are no doubt essential to a healthy diet and maintaining a strong immune system.
According to this study, vitamins A, D, E, C, and the B complex all participate in the regulation of the immune system in one way or another.
For example, both vitamin A and D deficiencies have been linked to impaired immune function. Vitamin A is involved in the formation of healthy mucus, while vitamin D is thought to have a protective effect against respiratory tract infection.
Vitamin E is linked to the formation of cells that fight pathogens, and vitamin C is considered as the classic antioxidant fighting against free radicals and preventing damage. It’s frequently recommended to individuals who have the common cold or pneumonia.
The B vitamins have been shown to be efficient in lowering inflammation caused by virus infection. In addition, they seem to lower levels of oxidative stress in the blood. Vitamins 6 and 12 have shown significant immunomodulating properties.
- Minerals are also essential in keeping your immunity in check.
The report states that mineral deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of infection.
Zinc, copper, iron, and selenium are all co-factors in the production of antibodies involved in antioxidant defense. They all, in their own way, play a certain role in the growth and functioning of immune cells.
Additionally, zinc is thought to help with the rhinovirus and pneumonia, while copper is effective in dealing with bacterial infections. Selenium, as well as iron, have often been linked with fighting off viral and bacterial infections.
Finally, the report also mentions the importance of phytonutrients (or phytochemicals), which are chemicals of plant origin. The scientists state that it has been shown that individuals whose diet is abundant in fruit and vegetables are much less prone to inflammation.
Both polyphenols and carotenoids have strong anti-inflammatory properties and stimulate the body’s own antioxidative system.
So, the Verdict?
In conclusion, all the findings in this report point to the fact that malnutrition can definitely weaken the immune system, making the body more prone to both inflammation and infections. This is especially relevant during the COVID-19 crisis, so the verdict would be that a varied, healthy, and balanced diet should by no means be sacrificed during these times.