The immune system is the body’s defence against harmful invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. Once the immune system recognizes a pathogen, which is a microorganism that can cause disease, it uses its defence (antibodies) to kill these pathogens. So, it is very important that we have a strong immune system to fight off any disease attacking the body.
Here are some studies supporting factors that can be beneficial to the immune system.
Low vitamin C can lead to impaired immunity. This can cause fatal infections such as pneumonia.
Who are most susceptible to have low vitamin C levels?
Smokers, individuals with diabetes and elderly people. In a study where pneumonia patients were given 0.5-1.6g/day of vitamin C reduced their hospital stay by 36%. Hence, 500mg taken twice per day (morning and evening) can help boost your immune system.
Carr, A.C. et al. (2017). Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients 3;9(11).
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Probiotics are live good bacteria that recent findings showed a beneficial effect for diseases related to the immune system such as allergy, eczema, and viral infections. Consuming 15-25 billion CFU/day probiotics can be beneficial for a healthy immune system.
Maldonado, G.C. (2019). Beneficial effects of probiotic consumption on the immune system. Ann Nutr Metab, 74(2):115-124
Our body is built to maintain a healthy balance of acidity and alkalinity. A normal pH level stands at 7.40 on a scale of 0 - 14, 0 being the most acidic and 14 most alkaline. When we consume highly acidic food daily such a sugar, fresh and processed meats, certain dairy products and coffee can cause low immune system which can lead to many diseases. A study showed that immunodeficiency was reversed with correction of acidosis. Hence, it is beneficial to consume lemon or ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda with water, one hour before lunch or dinner to keep normal levels of pH in the body. Bicarbonate of soda is high in sodium so people with hypertension need to be careful.
Lardner, A. (2001). The effects of extracellular pH on immune function. J Leukoc Biol, Apr;69(4):522-30.
A study showed that when vitamin C was taken with zinc, this can reduce the incidence and improve the outcome of pneumonia and reduce the severity and duration of infectious diseases. Zinc supplements: 8mg/day for women and 11mg/day for men. Some food sources of Zinc consist of meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy and eggs.
Wintergerst, E. S. et al. (2006). Immune enhancing role of vitamin c and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann Nutr Metab, 50: 85-94.
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Vitamin D is also important for a healthy immune system. In Winter, there is a higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency due to reduced exposure to sunlight. A study showed that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with reduced lung function. Spending 15-20 minutes in the sun (without sunscreen) between 10 am and 3 pm can help you achieve the daily amount of vitamin D required for a healthy immune system.
Zosky, G.R. et al. (2011). Vitamin D deficiency causes deficits in lung function and alters lung structure. Am J Respir Crit Care Med, 15;183(10):1336-43.
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Finally make sure to reduce stress and stay physically active for at least 30 minutes per day, since chronic stress can shift the balance of the immune system. Moderate-intensity exercise such as brisk walking, light jog, walking up and down the stairs, cycling and rowing are amongst the best exercise to include in your daily lifestyle.
Segerstrom, S.C. et al. (2004). Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychol Bull, 130(4): 601–630.
Make sure to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. Some may interact with medications that you might be taking.
This Blog Post was written by Romi Galea (M.SC (Birm.) Exercise and Sports Sciences and currently reading a PhD in Sports Nutrition at the University of Chester.