Guarding and defending your immune system

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Your immune system is your body’s version of a strong military defense. It has some fascinating soldiers that help make you less vulnerable to attack by fending off the infiltrators of illness. Protecting against disease, infection and supporting recovery after an injury, a healthy immune system is critical to good health. In this pandemic era, we all search for ways to help fend off COVID. There are no magic swords, but we can do things to mount the most vigorous defense possible.

Defense rests in a few key areas. The soldiers fighting infection are white blood cells carried in the lymphatic system. To take an active role in boosting white blood cell production, we need more than five hours of sleep per night to rejuvenate, at least 20 minutes of sun exposure daily to naturally acquire Vitamin D, and some relaxed laughter each day to help bust stress.

Also, did you know that fever can be a friend? It is a sign your white blood cells are ramping up to fight infection.

Choosing foods that help boost overall health and the immune system is very important. One of the most accessible and pleasurable ways to help your immune system is by choosing quality foods that contain vitamins and minerals that boost our defense.

Most people turn straight to vitamin C after catching a cold. It is thought to increase white blood cell production vital in fighting infections. Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. It’s easy to add a squeeze of this vitamin to any meal or to your water. Grapefruit, oranges, clementines, tangerines, lemons and limes are all delicious additions to your diet. In addition to citrus fruits, kiwi, papaya and red bell peppers all have a big punch of vitamin C. The recommended amount for most adults is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men. If you opt for supplements, avoid taking more than 2,000 mg a day. 

Broccoli, spinach and other dark leafy green vegetables are also great combatants. Broccoli is supercharged with vitamins A, C and E, as well as fiber and many other antioxidants. It’s one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your plate. Steaming is a great way to keep more nutrients in food. Cook it as little as possible—or better yet, not at all. Spinach is not just rich in vitamin C—it’s also packed with antioxidants and beta carotene, both of which may increase the immune system’s infection-fighting ability.

Add a kick to vegetables with chopped garlic, turmeric or ginger to boost immune fighting agents. Early civilizations recognized the value of garlic in fighting infections. Garlic’s immune-boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds. Ginger may help decrease inflammation, which can help reduce a sore throat and inflammatory illnesses and may help with nausea as well. Turmeric has curcumin an antiviral, as well as compounds that help with osteoarthritis.

Vitamin E is also a heavy hitter in boosting immunity. Almonds and other nuts, sunflower seeds, avocados and leafy greens all supply a good dose into your system. Adults only need about 15 mg of vitamin E each day. A half-cup serving of almonds, which is about 46 whole, shelled almonds, provides 100 percent of the recommended daily amount. Sunflower seeds are full of nutrients, including phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamins B-6 and E. Sunflower seeds are also incredibly high in selenium. A variety of studies, primarily performed on animals, have looked at its potential to combat viral infections such as swine flu (H1N1).

A cup of tea is not only calming; the tea itself provides viral busters. Both green and black teas are packed with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that protects cells. Where green tea really excels is in its levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), another powerful antioxidant. In studies, EGCG has been shown to enhance immune function. The fermentation process of black tea destroys a lot of the EGCG. Green tea, on the other hand, is steamed and not fermented, so the EGCG remains to stand duty.

Proteins such as poultry and shellfish also pack a wallop in defending your immune system. Chicken and turkey are high in vitamin B-6. About three ounces of light turkey or chicken meat contains nearly one-third of your daily recommended amount of B-6. Vitamin B-6 is an essential player in many of the chemical reactions that happen in the body. It’s also vital to the formation of new and healthy red blood cells. The broth made by boiling chicken bones contains gelatin, chondroitin and other nutrients helpful for gut healing and immunity. Shellfish contain zinc, which doesn’t get as much attention as many other vitamins and minerals, immune cells need it to function as intended.

Variety is the key to proper nutrition. Eating just one of these foods won’t be enough to help fight off infections, even if you eat it constantly. But keep in mind that while vitamin C and other vitamins might help you recover from a cold quicker, it cannot be relied upon alone to prevent illness. The combination of a healthy lifestyle, immunizations, and following CDC protocols of masking, hand-washing, and distancing in addition to these nutrient-dense foods will take us a long way in defending against and preventing illness.