How Does Your Immunity Work?

Immunity refers to the ability of your immune system to fight against various infections and prevent illnesses. The primary organs of your immune system include the bone marrow and the thymus. The bone marrow produces your new blood cells (including the one that provides immunity) and the thymus produces the hormone ‘thymosin’, which in turn aids in the production of immunity cells (primarily T-cells and B-cells). 

When your white blood cells (WBCs), also called leukocytes, find a target (invader or foreign substances like bacteria, virus, parasite, etc.), they multiply and are also responsible for releasing antibodies. 

Relationship Between Your Diet and Immunity

Your diet and lifestyle play an important role in developing as well as strengthening your immune system. Every immune system is different. Some might function effectively while others might need additional help due to disturbances in certain external or internal factors. This is why it is important for you to keep your body energized and healthy with the right kind of foods so that the tiny soldiers, i.e., WBCs, in your body get the required nourishment they need.

Boosting your immune system has never felt more important than now. A well-balanced diet can help you avoid any nutritional deficiencies and will pay off in the long run. A nutritional deficiency occurs when you do not eat a healthy, and balanced diet, which can result in a weakened immune system, leading to digestion problems, skin diseases, bone, and joint problems, neurological disorders, etc.

6 Key Nutrients to Strengthen and Improve Overall Immunity

1. Vitamin C: You probably by now know that Vitamin C is linked to boosting your immunity. 

  • Vitamin C helps to boost the production of antibodies and acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants help to fight against free radicals in the body and prevent any damage to the immune system. 1–2 servings (1 serving = about 100 g) of vitamin C rich foods is recommended. 

  • Foods such as lemons, oranges, kiwi, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, papaya, strawberry, amla (Indian gooseberry), and bell peppers are excellent sources of vitamin C.

2. Vitamin D: Regular consumption of vitamin D helps to boost your immune system by decreasing the production of pro-inflammatory compounds (chemicals that increase inflammation) in your body. 

It has also shown to lessen the risk of developing a viral infection including respiratory tract infections (RTIs).

  • Foods like salmon, mackerel, egg yolks, mushrooms, and foods fortified with vitamin D are excellent sources. 

  • Get yourself at least 20 minutes of natural sunlight in order to amp up your vitamin D levels. However, people with darker skin tones need to spend more time in the sun, preferably 30–35 minutes to reap the benefits, as melanin (the chemical responsible for imparting your skin and hair colour) decreases the production of vitamin D. 

  • In case you have a vitamin D deficiency, taking a supplementation under the guidance of your physician or a nutritionist would be helpful.

3. Zinc: Zinc helps in boosting the production of WBCs in the body. Even a mild zinc deficiency can result in a weak immunity. 

  • Studies also suggest that zinc helps to control and prevent excessive inflammation which can be damaging to the cells and the body.
  • Whole grains, nuts & seeds, lean meat like chicken, turkey, and beans & legumes are some food sources that are abundant in zinc.

4. Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 also supports the production of WBCs in your body. 

  • It promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria which helps to boost the immune system by warding off harmful pathogens in the intestine. 

  • Animal products like chicken, fish, eggs, seafood, and milk & milk products are rich sources of vitamin B12. However, it is advised to take supplementation in case you are deficient, after consultation with your doctor.

5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids help in fighting inflammation in the body and also keeps your immunity on track.

  • Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce the risks of auto-immune disorders like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Foods like almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and oily fishes like salmon, tuna, sardines, or mackerel are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids and must be consumed at least 2 to 3 times a week.

6. Proteins: Proteins are known as the ‘body building food’. They are essential for the synthesis of cells as well as antibodies for a better immune function. 

People who are protein deficient are often more susceptible to infections. 

  • Include protein-rich foods in your main meals or snacks. 

  • Some protein-rich foods include eggs, chicken, fish, nuts & seeds, pulses & legumes, soya chunks, tofu, milk & milk products like curd, buttermilk, cheese, paneer, etc.

In-a-nutshell, your diet and lifestyle factors play an important role in strengthening your immune system. A diet rich in whole foods helps prevent any sort of nutritional deficiencies that may result in a weak immunity. Consult your physician to know which foods are best for you, in case you have any kind of food allergies.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.