With the unfortunate rise in infectious diseases and current public health concerns, there has been an increased interest in how to maximize the immune system. The immune system is one of the most extraordinary systems in the body. It is so highly intricate, yet it functions mostly on its own, as our inner military defense, protecting us from the harms of the external world—bacteria, viruses, chemicals, etc.—also known as pathogens. For all individuals, including the health-conscious ones in our FightCamp family, the immune system is pretty darn important. Here’s what you need to know.
NUTRIENTS FOR THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, play a special role in keeping a healthy immune system. Vitamins, such as vitamins A, C, D and E, along with minerals, such as zinc and selenium, have crucial functions in different parts of the immune system to ensure it operates properly. Research shows that the body requires a constant intake of vitamin A through food in order to support immunity. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium, protect and strengthen cells of the immune system by neutralizing reactive oxygen species—molecules that may cause severe damage to our cells (Source 1, 2, 3). Vitamin C also plays a role in stimulating the production of white blood cells, a.k.a. soldiers who fight intruders in the body (Source), while zinc aids in the growth and development of immune cells (Source 1, 2). Lastly, there is a clear link between vitamin D deficiency and adverse health outcomes due to the significant role of vitamin D on immunity (Source 1, 2).
BEST FOODS FOR IMMUNITY
Citrus fruits: oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruits, tangerines
Berries: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries
Orange-yellow fruits: mangos, pineapples, papayas, guavas, bananas, peaches
Other fruits: kiwis, cherries
Red-orange vegetables: carrots, sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, tomatoes, pumpkin
Green vegetables: spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, turnip greens
Other vegetables: mushrooms, potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower
GRAINS AND LEGUMES
Whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, oats, fortified whole grain products
Legumes: beans, chickpeas, soybeans, lentils
NUTS AND SEEDS
Nuts: almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews
Seeds: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
Roots: ginger, onion, garlic, turmeric
Fresh herbs: thyme, parsley, cilantro
Other spices: cinnamon
Fish and shellfish
DO I NEED TO TAKE SUPPLEMENTS?
Are you one of those who pop the vitamin C pills when you feel that cold coming? You’re not alone. Contrary to popular belief, research indicates that supplements such as vitamin C and zinc do not reduce the chances of getting a cold. However, these supplements can be helpful in reducing the duration and severity after the onset of cold symptoms (Source 1, 2, 3). It’s important to know that vitamins and minerals are more bioavailable (better absorbed) when consumed through foods versus supplements. In addition, foods provide other important nutrients and health benefits that supplements lack.
THE ROLE OF EXERCISE
Several studies have looked at the link between physical activity and the immune system. One study found an inverse relationship between moderate exercise training and risk for illness. Similarly, the study found that habitual exercise may have an anti-inflammatory effect, improving defense activity and metabolic health, which in turn also reduces illness risk. Another study suggested that long-term physical activity improves the immune system and may prevent infections, while a meta-analysis indicated that regular exercise may reduce the severity of respiratory tract infections.
Boxers, we now know that regular physical activity and a nutritious diet—one rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins—work synergistically in supporting the immune system and improving health status (Source). So, make yourself a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries, get your FightCamp boxing gloves on, and get ready to help your body knockout unwanted visitors.