A Healthy Immune System Supports Emotional Wellbeing
Kakutani, N., Yokota, T., Fukushima, A., Obata, Y., Ono, T., Sota, T., Kinugasa, Y., Takahashi, M., Matsuo, H., Matsukawa, R., Yoshida, I., Kakinoki, S., Yonezawa, K., Himura, Y., Yokota, I., Yamamoto, K., Tsuchihashi-Makaya, M., & Kinugawa, S. (2022). Impact of citrus fruit intake on the mental health of patients with chronic heart failure. Journal of cardiology, 79(6), 719–726. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jjcc.2021.12.004
The immune system is designed to fight off infection in the body however, sometimes it fails and you get sick.There is currently no scientific evidence that nutrition improves immunity, however living a healthy lifestyle is a good place to start. Living a healthy lifestyle includes:
- Don't smoke
- Eat a diet high in fruit and vegetables
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation
- Get adequate sleep
- Wash your hands frequently and cook meats thoroughly
- Try and minimize stress
When nutrition is poor, this can affect the immune system. Insufficient vitamin D intake for example, may be associated with autoimmune diseases, cancer and cardiovascular disease – with the ultimate test for immune function being the survival of infectious disease.
Those particularly at risk of infection are young children and the elderly. The flu (influenza) and pneumonia are leading causes of deaths worldwide – and it’s not known why. There may be a link between immunity and nutrition in older adults, known as "micronutrient malnutrition". This might be because older people tend to eat less often and have less variety (of fruits and vegetables) in their diet. It is not known whether a supplement may help older people maintain a healthy immune system - this is something that should be discussed with a medical practitioner.
Over nutrition can also be a problem as this can cause weight gain and obesity. Obesity can result in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease which may also affect the immune system by reducing the body's ability to fight off infections.
Foods that May Boost your Immune System
- Citrus fruits (grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes). Vitamin C may boost the immune system through increasing the production of white blood cells – the key to fighting infections.
- Broccoli. Packed with vitamins A, C and E. Eat it raw or be careful not to over cook it.
- Garlic. May help lower blood pressure and slow down hardening of the arteries.
- Ginger. Ginger may help reduce inflammation and also reduce nausea symptoms.
- Spinach. Another food rich in Vitamin C.
- Almonds. Rich in vitamin E which may also help strengthen the immune system.
- Turmeric. Might assist with anti-inflammatory pain which occurs with arthritis.
- Green tea. Contains antioxidants which may have a positive effect on reducing the risk of some cancers (more research needed).
- Kiwifruit. Loaded with Vitamin C.
- Sunflower seeds. Full of nutrients like phosphorus and magnesium. They are also high in Vitamin E which may help immune function and reduce the risk of blood clots forming in the arteries.
- Shellfish. Packed with Zinc. Zinc is involved in immune function and wound healing.
There is still much research to be done before we know for sure if foods absolutely boost immunity. But living as healthy a lifestyle as you can, with exercise, lots of fruit and vegetables, minimal stress, good sleep, and minimal alcohol will be a good start towards improving immune function.
Invited Commentary. Nutrition, immunity and human health. 2015. The British Journal of Nutrition, 114, 1329-1330.
Patel PS, Buras ED, Balasubramanyam A. The role of the immune system in obesity and insulin resistance. 2013. Journal of Obesity, Annual.