As virus cases rise, 10 immune-boosting foods to eat this winter
With the COVID-19 Pandemic still in full force – and now aggravated in a tripledemic (more like a multidemic) alongside it RSVthe flu, Strep A, and a host of other microbial threats—Americans are understandably interested in steps to strengthen their immune system’s physiological firewalls to fend off this evolving menagerie of threats. Vaccination and boosting help ramp up by preparing adaptive immunity (the branch of the immune system that targets specific pathogens) for a specific threat, as we have seen with the vaccines that prepare the immune system against variants of SARS-CoV-2 . the virus that causes COVID, and flu shots. Mechanical barriers such as masking, ventilation, and social distancing help reduce the “viral dose” (the initial viral load that enters the body when infected) from pathogen exposure, increasing the likelihood that the immune system will pre-empt a severe attack wards off the virus or other pathogen can replicate and establish itself in force.
But there’s a third pillar of this chair: how about more holistically boosting the body’s overall health and defenses, and therefore the immune system, to prepare and strengthen it for a wide range of infectious threats? Sufficient exercise, sufficient sleep, a well-maintained body weight, stress management and a good general well-being are undoubtedly the linchpins, but diet also plays a decisive role. A caveat to this: Nutritional science is one of the most relevant and easily applicable areas of study for maintaining health and well-being, but it’s also one of the most difficult areas to challenge simply because we can’t do the kind of controlled experiments that support the finding of causality, the cornerstone of the scientific method. As such, there is always some uncertainty about the results in this area and how applicable they are to a specific individual and their health. It is therefore important to consult with your doctor or other health care provider before making any major dietary supplement or therapy changes, particularly those related to other underlying health conditions.
That being said, there is some evidence from the scientific and medical literature about foods that may help boost the immune system, or at least promote health maintenance and the body’s ability to boost both the innate and adaptive arms of immunity . Read to the end for a few essential examples.—Wes UlmMD, PhD, is a physician and researcher, Musician (J. Wes Ulm and Kant’s Konundrum) and novelist, and earned a dual MD/PhD from Harvard Medical School and MIT. He is part of Heroes of the COVID crisis series in relation to his ongoing drug discovery and public health efforts.
Citrus fruits in general are perhaps best known in the public consciousness for their immune-boosting effects, and there is actually some evidence from a multitude of studies to back this up. It’s likely that much of this is due to the fruit’s provision of the water-soluble vitamin ascorbic acid, aka ascorbic acid vitamin Cand among members of the citrus family, oranges are particularly good sources of this essential nutrient. The role of ascorbic acid (ascorbate) in equipping and strengthening the immune system is diverse and still not fully understood, but includes a number of functions, including contributions to immune regulation, antioxidant activity in the skin and mucous membranes, support for the proliferation of central white blood cells (particularly lymphocytes such as natural killer cells, central to innate immunity, and T and B cells, the cornerstones of adaptive immunity), improving connective tissue barriers (particularly through their role in cross-linking and strengthening collagen). protein) and even direct antimicrobial (and especially antiviral) effects. Both the juice and the fruit itself are good sources, but since many orange juice products have added sugars, some refreshing orange slices are probably the healthiest form to consume on a regular basis. Additionally, in addition to carotenoids (e.g. lycopene), flavonoids (e.g. hesperidin) and vitamin A (retinol and related compounds), oranges in solid form also provide a healthy dose of fiber, another factor that may help boost the immune system have also been linked to antioxidant activity and immune system boosting in many studies.
lemons and limes
Citrus fruits rich in ascorbate, such as Lemons and limes, provide an immune boost for reasons similar to oranges. In fact, sailors earned the nickname “lime” because it was discovered that stocking limes on board sailing ships helped ward off the dreaded disease scurvy, a connective tissue disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. And like oranges, these fruits are high in other antioxidants and immune boosters like vitamin A, flavonoids, carotenoids, and some B-complex vitamins. Additionally, both lemons and limes are versatile fruits that are easy to incorporate into a variety of meals; just a sprinkle here and there on an appetizer or salad can pack a nice immune-boosting boost.
garlic has been associated with strengthening and protecting the immune system for centuries. Like ginger (below), it appears to have antibacterial and antiviral properties that are commonly associated with the presence of allicin, an organosulfur compound that the garlic plant itself uses as a form of natural pesticide. In fact, there has recently been growing research interest in allicin’s potential to help combat the worrying rise in multidrug-resistant bacteria.
like citrus, blueberries are particularly rich in flavonoids such as hesperidin, which can help prevent and fight off a variety of infections. In addition to its antimicrobial properties, hesperidin has also demonstrated a number of other health benefits. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects that can help reduce inflammation in the body and relieve symptoms of conditions like arthritis and asthma.
Brussels sprouts and broccoli
Cruciferous Vegetables and broccoli in particular are also good sources of vitamin C and may have immune-boosting antimicrobial and antioxidant effects in addition to their other contributions to maintaining health. There is some evidence that this may be linked to another organosulfur compound called sulforaphane, although evidence of its role in this regard is currently unclear.
Kale and Spinach
Leafy Vegetables are another cornerstone of a healthy diet and a cure aimed at maintaining health in general. They are also a rich reservoir of vitamin C in their own right, which, like citrus fruits, can help boost the immune system.
carrots are a particularly rich source of carotenoids such as beta-carotene, which is converted in the body Vitamin A (retinol and related compounds), a fat-soluble vitamin. Vitamin A strengthens the immune system in many ways, but primarily by helping white blood cells to multiply and become ready. In particular, they help in the body’s production of lymphocytes and especially T and B cells, the mainstays of the adaptive immune system, which respond to and attack specific antigens, which are the molecular fingerprints on the surfaces of bacteria, viruses and other pathogens enable the body to distinguish between self and non-self.
Ginger, in its various forms (whether as a tea, shot or a fresh concoction made from the ginger root), has also been publicly linked to immune enhancement and there is some evidence for this as well. The specifics aren’t clear, but it appears that ginger’s antioxidant abilities may play a role, and it may have direct antibacterial and antiviral properties. Additionally, there is more robust evidence to suggest that ginger, as an anti-inflammatory compound, may be helpful in combating the harmful chronic inflammation of some autoimmune diseases, although evidence is still being accumulated as to the mechanism and nature of this phenomenon.
like citrus, apples are good sources of ascorbic acid and flavonoids and boost the immune system for similar reasons. So there is actually some truth to the old saw about apples and avoiding doctor’s offices.
Green tea may possess immune-boosting properties in part thanks to two specific classes of compounds it contains: theanine, an amino acid analogue for which there is some evidence of immunomodulatory potential, and a class of flavonoids (within the polyphenol family of organic compounds) called catechins. In the latter group, green tea is particularly rich in epigallocatechin gallate, also known as EGCGa powerful antioxidant.
As a final note, it’s helpful to remember that these foods best provide their immune-boosting punch in conjunction with an overall sound health and wellness regimen, including adequate exercise, sleep, and stress management. Proper nutrition is best understood in the context of systems biology, a sort of permanent frontier in biomedical research, as it involves the contribution of emergent properties to physiology—essentially phenomena and relationships only apparent at higher levels or organizations and amidst complex interactions and ways for which we are constantly expanding our knowledge base. As such, none of the above superfoods should be viewed as “magic bullets” for boosting your immune system — they are integral parts of a much larger physiological tapestry to ensure optimal immune and overall health.
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