Words by Kirsty Urquhart
Photography by Abigail Varney
Our immune system is a multifaceted and busy network designed to protect us from a range of pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Our ability to resist and recover from disease is heavily weighted on the functionality of our immune system. Our immune system responds to invaders in two parts; innate, our primary defence system and adaptive, our secondary defence system. Lymphocytes, cytokines and white blood cells all play specific roles in assisting our bodies to defend and clear potential microbial pathogens. It’s almost like we have our own little army inside of us, working around the clock to protect us, how amazing! So, here’s some important factors in ensuring our immune army can work to its fullest potential!
Following a general wholefood diet, that is one that is based on fresh produce of whole foods with minimal processing ensures we are providing our bodies with a wide array of nutrients that work together synergistically to support our wellbeing and vitality.
Here are some nutritional highlights in respect to boosting our immune system naturally! If your all over your immune boosting foods, scroll down to learn more about lifestyle factors to increase your immune system.
Essential fatty acids are the gatekeepers of immune regulation.
Vitamin C works as an immune stimulant to strengthen resistance to infection. It is necessary for the immune system to mount and sustain an adequate response against pathogens by improving the function of white blood cells and leukocytes such as natural killer cells (the name says it all!). It is rapidly expended during times of stress and infection, therefore consuming foods high in vitamin C replenishes concentrations, enhancing the ability of your immune cells to function optimally.
Sources; Raw red and yellow capsicum, golden kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, capsicum, asparagus, mango, brussel sprouts, tomato, green leafy vegetables, berries.
Vitamin D modulates inflammation and has an effect on immune response through activating specific T-Helper cells which detect pathogens, releasing cytokines to help fight off infections. A deficiency in vitamin D may increase susceptibility to infection, though the good news is just 15 minutes of sun exposure per day will help to increase your levels.
Sources; Small amounts can also be found in salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, eggs.
*Supplementation of Vitamin D should only be made if you have a deficiency and best prescribed by a healthcare practitioner.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that plays an important role in maintaining the health of the immune system, enhancing immune parameters to improve the function of lymphocytes, neutrophils and Natural killer cells. This increases resistance to bacterial and viral infections protecting the immune system.
Sources; Almonds, apricot oil, egg yolk, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, wheat germ.
Selenium is an antioxidant that enhances T cell proliferation and an increase in natural killer cell activity, regulating and protecting our immune system. The immune system relies on adequate dietary selenium intake as deficiency can increase susceptibility to infections, just one brazil nut contains your recommended intake of selenium!
Sources; Brazil nuts, alfalfa, meat, eggs, onion, garlic, broccoli.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids are the gatekeepers of immune regulation and influence immune cell activation. The fatty acid composition of immune cells influences T cell reactivity increasing the ability to reduce inflammation and increase immunity.
Sources; Oily fish, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, walnut, pumpkin seeds, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, brazil nuts, almonds, pistachios.
Zinc influences both innate and adaptive immune responses and is essential for the development and function of the immune system. It functions as a cofactor for many immune dependant responses including T cell function and leukocytes. It is an antioxidant with anti-viral properties necessary for immune modulation.
Sources; Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, egg yolks, seafood, oysters, beef.
Probiotics are ‘live microorganisms which, when consumed in adequate amounts as part of food, confer a health benefit to the host’. They mediate immunoregulatory effects by regulating mucosal immune cells in our gut, stimulating protective responses with the potential to block pathogenic bacteria. Basically, if we have enough good bacteria these is less of a chance of pathogenic bacteria surviving!
Sources; yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, tempeh, kimchi.
How else can we support our immune health?
As well as meeting your nutritional needs and incorporating the above nutrients some other ways to support your immunity include;
Sleep – Aim for 7 – 9 hours per night
Stress management – Find YOUR way to relax. Whether it’s a bush walk, taking a bath, reading a book, journaling or meditating (the list could go on!) find what works for you and make time for it, daily!
Exercise – Good news, your favourite activity (hiking) boosts your immunity too!
Find out more here.
About the author
Qualifications: Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine and Dietetics), Registered Clinical Nutritionist (ANTA)
Kirsty Urquhart is a holistic clinical Nutritionist who is passionate about empowering and educating people through their journey with health. With an emphasis on food as medicine, she believes in the healing nature of food and the many rewards it can provide to assist in wellbeing and vitality. Her moto is ‘finding balance’, with a strong focus around individualised care.
When she isn’t in clinical practice, you’ll find her exploring a new hiking track, creating new recipes, cooking for friends, trying to improve her gardening skills or deep into a crime thriller novel!