The Covid-19 pandemic has put our physical and mental wellness on the agenda. While we may have been content to sacrifice our health for progress or productivity a few years ago, most people are now eager to ensure that they maintain a strong defense against sickness. The immune system is a network of organs, cells, and proteins that helps our bodies to fight harmful pathogens including bacteria, viruses, parasites, and cancer cells. When our bodies are infected by pathogens, the components of our immune system such as antibodies and white blood cells spring into action to try and eliminate the foreign invaders. Symptoms such as fever or rashes are visible results of the immune system’s battle against infection.
You Are What You Eat
Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients have valuable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help our body grow new cells and repair damaged cells, thus preventing severe disease and premature aging. More than 25,000 phytonutrients can be found in edible plants and various groups of phytonutrients are related to the color of the fruits of vegetables. Carotenoids from yellow, orange, and red foods are probably the best-known group of phytonutrients. These include beta-carotene which can be found in carrots and lycopene which can be found in tomatoes. Carotenoids can sometimes be converted into vitamin A, which is essential for eye health. Aside from carotenoids, plants can contain numerous other phytonutrient families: ellagic acid, flavonoids, resveratrol, phytoestrogens, and glucosinolates.
Glucosinolates are phytonutrient compounds found in cruciferous vegetables from the Brassica genus that include bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale. They are responsible for producing the unique smell and flavor of these vegetables. The consumption of glucosinolates has been associated with reducing inflammation, regulating metabolic function, and preventing cancer. The glucosinolate glucobrassicin converts into a compound called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) during the chopping and chewing process. This compound later becomes diindolylmethane (DIM) in the acidic environment of our stomachs. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have found that DIM supplements possess potent detoxification powers and can greatly enhance the immune system.
Because plants are low in calories, they represent a particularly nutrient-dense way for us to obtain the vital vitamins and minerals that we need. This is why nutrition experts have been nagging us since childhood to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. One cup of cooked broccoli contains all of our daily vitamin C needs and only 55 calories. In addition, it comes with many B vitamins, vitamins E and K, and crucial minerals like calcium, iron, potassium, and manganese. Plants are also extremely high in dietary fiber, which helps us to maintain gut health, control blood sugar levels, and sustain a healthy weight. Therefore, consuming a diet rich in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables is the best way to support a healthy body and immune system.
Get Out and Get Moving
Outside of what we put inside our bodies, the activities we undertake are important as well. It is no secret that our modern lives can be stressful. However, many people are not aware that severe stress can reduce the number of lymphocytes in the body, negatively affecting our ability to fight viruses. Chronic stress can further cause the immune system to mount a prolonged inflammatory response that can lead to cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Hence, we should take action to manage and reduce our stress levels. Physical activity is a wonderful way to do this. Whether you take the stairs or walk the dog, a change in scenery and body activity can help to relieve stress, interrupt repetitive negative thoughts in the brain, and foster creativity. Going outside in the fresh air can also increase the flow of oxygen to your body and brain, releasing toxins from your lungs and rejuvenating your cells.
If you feel up to it, exercise brings with it a multitude of benefits for our immune systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people undertake at least 5 hours of moderate exercise like yoga or jogging every week. During moderate aerobic exercise, our muscles contract, which quickens the circulation of blood and defensive immune cells. Immune cells such as neutrophils and macrophages are mobilized by the activity and enter the bloodstream ready to fight off any infections. The keyword here, however, is moderate. Experts warn that while regular moderate exercise is the key to strengthening the immune system over time, excessive and intense exercise could actually raise the risk of infection by putting too much stress on our bodies.
The immune system is our first line of defense against harmful pathogens that could cause serious illness and disease. We can boost our immune function through consuming a nutritious diet and supplements, managing our stress, and staying active. In taking care of our immune system, we can help it to take better care of our bodies.