How Exactly Does Your Immune System Work?

The immune system is a network of intricate stages and pathways in the body that protects us against harmful microbes as well as certain diseases. It recognizes foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and parasites and takes immediate action. Humans possess two types of immunity: innate and adaptive.

Innate: This is the first-line defense from pathogens that try to enter our bodies, achieved through protective barriers such as our skin.

Adaptive: Also called acquired immunity, this is when your system learns to recognize a pathogen. It is regulated by cells and organs in our body like the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and lymph nodes.

The Link Between Nutrition and the Immune System

The design of our immune system is complex and influenced by an ideal balance of many factors, such as adequate sleep and exercise and low stress, but most importantly, our diet. Having a healthy diet that includes a wide range of vitamins and minerals is a key component of a healthy lifestyle. It also plays a vital role in supporting a well-functioning and effective immune system to help protect against infection and other diseases. 

Research shows that each stage of the body’s immune response relies on the presence of many micronutrients. Examples of the nutrients that have been identified as critical for the growth and function of immune cells include:

  • vitamin C
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin B6 & B12
  • zinc
  • selenium
  • iron
  • Copper
  • Folate

Adequate amounts of these vitamins and minerals can be consumed naturally and are found in a variety of plant and animal foods. 

Preventing COVID-19

As explained by the British Dietetic Association, good hygiene practice is the best way to prevent catching COVID-19. There is no specific food or supplement that will single handedly boost your immune system or prevent you from catching COVID-19.

However, Dr. Kate Allen states that there are many nutrients, like the ones listed above, that are involved in helping maintain the normal functioning of the immune system. So, a balanced, nutritious diet is an important step in keeping you healthy overall. In addition, the following lifestyle tips will keep your body and immune system healthy and strong:

  • Be a healthy weight
  • Be physically active
  • Eat whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans
  • Limit fast foods
  • Limit red and processed meat
  • Limit sugar sweetened drinks
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Don’t rely on supplements

 

For more information, visit the Harvard School of Public Health or the World Cancer Research Fund International. 

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