SUPER YOU: HOW TO SUPPORT A STRONGER IMMUNE SYSTEM
As regular handwashing, sanitising, social distancing, and the wearing of masks becomes the new normal, we continue to do all that we can to manage our risk of illness and disease. The good news is that there is a lot we can do to strengthen our body’s natural ability to fight off illness by supporting a healthy immune system.
Immune System 101
Think of the immune system like an army of soldiers always ready to defend the battlefield. The immune system is the body’s natural defence, working 24/7 to protects our bodies from diseases and infections caused by invading viruses, bacteria, and other germs.
Like soldiers have a range of protective equipment and tools like riffles, tanks, grenades, if these germs do get into the body, the immune system uses white blood cells, proteins, tissues and organs like the skin to back up the immune system and attack the intruder.
Nutrition and Immunity: What’s the Deal?
The various parts of the immune system relies on vitamins and minerals, together known as nutrients, for optimal functioning. Like superheroes each have different superpowers and strengths, so too do the various nutrients when it comes to our immunity. These include the vitamins A, C, D, E, B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), B12 (cobalamin), and the minerals zinc, iron, copper, selenium, and magnesium.
Let us take a closer look at some of the nutrients involved in the immune system.
Vitamin A: We do not really think about it, but our skin is the first line of defence against bacteria and viruses that enter the body, making it an important part in the normal functioning of the immune system. Our skin needs vitamin A. It is worrying to know that 4 in 10 South African children under the age of 5 years suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Orange-fleshed sweet potato, butternut, pumpkin, and carrots are examples of foods that contain beta-carotene, a pro-vitamin that the body converts into vitamin A. Beef or chicken liver is also a cost-effective source of vitamin A.
Vitamin C: We all know that vitamin C is an important vitamin in keeping the immune system strong. This vitamin protects the body’s cells from damage and supports the normal function of the skin. However, it is a misconception that vitamin C prevents us from getting sick. Rather, studies have shown that vitamin C significantly shortens the duration of a cold when you do get sick The body cannot make or store vitamin C so it needs to be eaten regularly. Many fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, which is why a diet low in these foods puts us a risk of a deficiency. While oranges are renowned for being high in vitamin C, did you know that pineapple, as well as strawberries, mango, paw paw, broccoli and Brussel sprouts have even more vitamin c?
Vitamin D: The skin can make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight and this is one of the best ways to get this nutrient. This sunshine vitamin contributes to the normal function of our immune system. In fact, new research has shown that vitamin D may lower the risk of viral infections and the common cold. You can also get a bit of vitamin D from tinned fish like pilchards, more so when you eat the bones, too. Mushrooms have some vitamin D. And how interesting is this: put your mushrooms in the sun for 15 minutes to boost the vitamin D 10 – 30 times more.
B Vitamins: There are eight B vitamins collectively known as the B complex vitamins: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9), and cobalamin (B12). Vitamin B6 and folate are two of the B vitamins that contribute to the normal function of the immune function. B6 is found in a variety of foods like chicken, fish, oats, bananas, and peanuts. This B vitamin also helps reduce tiredness and fatigue. Folate is found naturally found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, and beans. Your body also needs folate to make DNA and other genetic material.
Zinc: Around the world, 2 billion people at risk of a zinc deficiency. Zin is an essential mineral that is not made or stored by the body, which means that we need to eat enough every day. Zinc is found in almost every cell of the body. Zinc supports immunity, would healing, and normal growth and development in children, teenagers, and pregnant women. For this reason, getting too little zinc in the diet may weaken the immune system, stunt a child’s growth and development, cause poor wound healing.
While we are talking about vitamins, did you know potatoes contain some of the immune-supporting nutrients such as vitamin B6, B9 (folate), copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc? Potatoes also have calcium, iodine, phosphorous and manganese to offer up a full dose of nutrients important for our health.
What is not to love about a food that can be used at every meal? Jacket potatoes for dinner tonight can be used for potato pancakes for breakfast or a potato salad for lunch the next day. Visit www.potatonation.co.za for new, fun ideas to perfect your plate with potatoes.
- Gombart et al; A review of micronutrients and the immune system working in harmony to reduce the risk of infection. Nutrients, 2020;12:236.
- Grant WB et al. Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Risk of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections and Deaths. Nutrients 2020, 12, 988.
- Hemila H, Chauker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Systematic Review – Intervention Version. 2013. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4
- Robertson, T. M., Alzaabi, A. Z., Robertson, M. D., & Fielding, B. A. (2018). Starchy carbohydrates in a healthy diet: The role of the humble potato. Nutrients, 10(11), 1764. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10111764
- Wessels I et al. Zinc as a gatekeeper of immune function. Nutrients. 2017;9:1286.