When it comes to protecting ourselves from diseases, we can either prevent contact with all harmful pathogens or strengthen our body's resistance to these pathogens. Since the first option is quite impossible, strengthening our immunity is a better solution.
Our immune system has various crucial functions that shield the body. Aside from protecting against diseases and damage, it also targets and eliminates abnormal cells that come from invading pathogens and even our own host tissues. Even more amazing is its ability to keep a memory of immunological encounters so that the body already knows how to react when the same pathogen enters next time.
Many factors affect how our immune process functions. Foremost are diet, age, stress, and exercise. Deficiencies in nutrients like iron, zinc, and specific vitamins can result in a weaker immune system.(1)
On the other hand, a balanced diet, with foods that boost the immune system, contribute to stronger immunity. Supplementation of high quality, even unusual supplements like Shilajit, can also help boost immunity because of its wide range of nutrients and bioactives, known to help promote healthy immunity.(2)
In this article, we will go through some of the vitamins and food substances, all helpful for proper immune response. How much is needed by the body and what foods to eat so you can have plenty.
Most herbal supplements do not contain other nutrients, vitamins, and elements that may be helpful to proper immune health. High-quality shilajit like Purblack resin does, including bioactives instrumental in promoting a healthy immune response. Shilajit is a biogenic stimulant made by nature through the fermentation of medicinal plants and primarily found in high altitude rocks in the Himalayas and the Altai Mountain ranges. It is widely known in Ayurvedic medicine, and modern science has succeeded in validating some of its claims.
Shilajit is known to promote healthy immune response and assists a healthy body to utilize nutrients integral to immune health. Others use the resin as an adaptogen, substances that allow the body to adjust to stress optimally. Therefore, when looking for supplements that help immune response, shilajit may be a good option.
We only recommend high-quality shilajit, in resin format. Purblack offers a unique shilajit blend that is better in efficacy and is claimed to be the closest to nature. Only a pea-sized amount is needed every day or about 250mg - 500mg of resin, dissolved in water or your favorite beverage.
Primarily known for its function in proper bone homeostasis, Vitamin D, otherwise known as the "Sunshine Vitamin," also plays a leading role in our immunity.(3) The vitamin factors mostly in the body's resistance, as its receptor is expressed in immune cells ( B, T, and antigen cells). Deficiency has been linked to autoimmune diseases and proneness to infection, thus it is crucial to immunity because it activates our T cells that kill foreign pathogens like viruses and bacteria. Such was the finding of researchers at the University of Copenhagen.(4)
It seems to have an arming effect for our T cells enabling those to counter invading microorganisms effectively. According to Professor Carstein Geisler of the Department of International health Immunology and Microbiology, T cells use a signaling device known as a vitamin D receptor, which searches for vitamin D, without which, T cells lie dormant and unresponsive to invasive pathogens.
This discovery may also serve helpful against diseases like Crohns, MS, and arthritis. It may also help in the development of vaccines based on how the vitamin activates T cells.
Researchers from the University of Edinburg also studied the vitamin's effect on T cells.(5) Their findings differentiated between healthy individuals whose T cells helped fight infections, and those with autoimmune diseases, whose T cells attacked the body's own tissues instead. It was found that Vitamin D tempered the activation of T cells by causing dendritic cells to produce a molecule called CD31. Because the triggering process is tempered, T cells only attack pathogens, and not the body's own tissues. The mechanism explains why a lack of vitamin D has been associated with various autoimmune illnesses.
Numerous factors influence the amount of Vitamin D needed for healthy immune response. Latitude, age, and sun exposure are some of the elements. Daily exposure of at least 15 minutes per day avoiding extreme sun hours is enough to help facilitate the transformation of vitamin D in the skin.
For supplementation, the US Institute of Medicine recommends an average daily amount of 400-800IU, equivalent to 10-20mcg, for most people. However, this amount needs to be higher for those without regular adequate sun exposure. The maximum safe limit set by the institute of medicine is 4000IU.(6)
Vitamin D is naturally processed by our skin through sun exposure, which is why it is called the sunshine vitamin.
However, it is also abundant in the following food sources (7):
- herring & sardines
- cod liver oil
- canned tuna
- egg yolks
- fortified foods like cow's milk, soy milk, juices and cereals
- Vitamin D supplements and multivitamins
Vitamin C, otherwise known as Ascorbic Acid, is famous for its potent antioxidant properties. It is widely known to help boost immunity by improving the cellular operations of the immune system. It is considered the first line of defense for many diseases. Taking vitamin C supplementation or just eating the right foods rich in it can help much, not only for the immune system but other bodily properties as well, for instance, skin integrity.
For immune response, it facilitates the epithelial barrier's protection against foreign bodies and fights off oxidative stress from the environment. Oxidative stress causes the release of free radicals, which accelerates anti-aging. Next, it assists phagocytic cells, helping destroy pathogens. It also reduces tissue damage by facilitating the process of apoptosis in sites of infection (8). Research also shows that it helps contribute to the product of B and T cells that play a crucial role in immune defense. Deficiency in Vitamin C leads to increase vulnerability to infectious diseases. Thus, supplementation is helpful and may even ward off systemic and respiratory infections.
The recommended daily intake of vitamin C for adults is 65-90mg, with a maximum limit of 2000mg.(9) As a water-soluble vitamin, it is readily excreted in urine and feces if there is excess; thus, toxicity is not a significant concern. The recommendation varies for prophylactic prevention of infection, with 100-200mg daily, and treatment of disease necessitating a higher dosage to make up for the heightened inflammatory response.
Ascorbic acid can be found in many food sources, with most of the sources as fruits and with some vegetables.(10)
The following foods are rich in vitamin C:
- Brussel sprouts
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Tomato and tomato products
- Many processed foods fortified in vitamin C.
For many years, zinc was known to be essential for the development of plants and animals. However, it was only around four decades ago, that the necessity of zinc intake in the diet was established by researchers in the Middle East. Patients who were deficient in zinc died from having weak immunity, especially those who were deficient early on in age. Their bodies are failing to fight off many kinds of infections.
Today, zinc deficiency is associated with abnormal testosterone levels, cognitive impairment, reduced lean body mass, growth retardation, neurosensory issues, and, ultimately, weakened immune response.(11)
Zinc is needed for proper development and functioning of cells that mediate immunity like T and B cells,(12) and it helps prevent damage to tissues from free radicals during inflammation. As such, the immune system needs it to function correctly, from strengthening the epithelial barrier, with our friend Vitamin C to regulating genes in lymphocytes.
Daily intake for zinc varies for men and women. For men, 11mg is sufficient, and for women, intake is 8mg.(13) All of which can be sourced directly from the diet due to zinc being abundant in protein-rich foods like meat and poultry.
High-quality protein sources should be able to give you your daily source of zinc.(14) These are the primary food sources:
- red meats
- Fortified cereals
- Legumes and seeds
There is a growing trend in foods favoring probiotics for health. Food products like kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt have seen increased demand in recent years and for a good reason since plenty of studies support the premise that these foods may help strengthen immunity.
Probiotics are good microorganisms, which include bacteria and yeast that form part of our digestive system.(15) They are sourced from food, as well. They aid in digestion, production of vitamins, and elimination of cells.(16) Imbalances in the diet can affect the levels of good bacteria in the body, promoting problems in immunity. That is why consuming foods rich in probiotics is seen as helpful in helping a healthy immune response.
Food Sources and Recommendations
Consumption of the foods above should help proper bacterial levels in the body. Incorporating them into the diet aids as well. If your lifestyle is rather demanding, and you are often short in time due to busy schedules, there are plenty of yogurt products available.
The following are rich in probiotics.(17)
- Traditional buttermilk
- Some cheeses, like gouda, mozzarella, cheddar, and cottage cheese
- Other fermented foods.
Garlic is an oft-used aromatic in cooking. Aside from providing flavor, garlic also has established health benefits, including anti-inflammation and a stronger immune defense.(18) Allicin, a sulfur-based compound, is what makes garlic beneficial. In fact, the unique taste and smell of garlic come from the sulfur in this compound.(19) Allicin has been shown to fight off microbes and even protozoan parasites like Plasmodium.
Since allicin is an unstable compound, it is easily transformed into other compounds with sulfur that also bear health benefits, such as helping white blood cells destroy pathogens that cause flu or the common cold. (20)
The benefit of garlic is easily destroyed through cooking. Thus proper operation may help preserve its properties. Too much heat can deactivate the enzyme that helps produce allicin.
A study has found that 45 minutes of baking in the oven or 60 seconds of microwaving can destroy allicin. (21)
On the other hand, crushing garlic and setting it aside for a good 10 minutes before cooking may help maximize the benefits of all. Even as the cooking process reduces the potency of garlic for health, increasing the amount of garlic can make up for this. If you can bear the taste of garlic, the best way, however, is to eat a clove. (22)
At the very least, it is enough to eat a clove of raw garlic 2-3 times a day. With an aged garlic supplement, the recommended daily intake is 600-1200g. Take note that too much garlic supplementation can be toxic, also, so it is best to keep intake within recommended levels.
Making sure that you have a strong immunity can go a long way in preventing severe infections and diseases. It does not cost a lot of money to have a strong resistance as eating foods rich in the mentioned nutrients will make sure to keep your immunity secure. A far better course than getting sick and paying a high price to be treated. There are plenty of supplements out there, including herbal ones that can promote proper immunity. (23) One of those supplements includes Shilajit or mineral pitch, an unusual tar-like substance widely known in Asia for its rich history of use. It is rich in nutrients and bioactives, all helpful in promoting healthy immunity.