How can I strengthen my immune system with food and food supplements?

The immune system is a very complex compound of cells, tissues, and organs which are interconnected to protect our body against disease-causing microorganisms. Microbes, such as viruses, harmful bacteria, fungi, and parasites can be easily hosted in the human body and it is the immune system’s role to intervene to avoid this from happening. An array of factors mediate in order to keep this system working in a correct way, among which, a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and physical activity are the key pillars1.

Humans are exposed to pollution, pathogens, environmental toxins and stress as part of everyday life, all of which contribute to the generation of free radicals. Free radicals are a very unstable molecule which can easily initiate a reaction which damages the cells unless they are ‘extinguish’ by an antioxidant. When free radicals are produced, an inflammatory response is generated which has been shown to be responsible for many pathological conditions and promote the development of certain diseases2.  On the other hand, antioxidants act as neutralizers of free radicals by preventing excessive oxidative damage. Antioxidants are the tool we have to fight this type of damage. Overpopulated cities tend to have a concentrated amount of pollution where people are much more exposed to external triggers and as a result, prone to have their immune system affected; however, certain lifestyle changes could possibly work to fight against the oxidative damage and strengthen the immune system3.

Inflammatory processes appear as a result of stress, unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices and these factors have a strong link with a weak and an unregulated immune system. Malnutrition has been showed as one of the main factors causing an imbalance between toxic free radicals and antioxidants status. Moreover, overweight and obese people tend to have a high inflammation status, for this reason, keeping a body weight under the normal range values is always beneficial4.

The general recommendation is to have an increased availability of ‘protectors’ to balance the external triggers that we are exposed to in a daily basis. Smoking, heavy drinking, not enough physical activity, not enough quality sleeping and unbalanced nutrition are just some of the factors which may contribute to make a person more susceptible to developing all sorts of health issues.

Among the nutrients which are required for maintaining the immune system functioning normally, there are a number of vitamins and minerals which potentially have a better participation in immune responses; vitamins C and D and minerals selenium and zinc are believed to be the essential ones for this purpose5. Vitamin C can be found in a wide range of fruits and vegetables, in particular in citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli and Brussels sprouts; while vitamin D is found in animal derived foods. Oily fish, meat, liver and eggs tend to have a high concentration of this type of soluble vitamin. Selenium is a type of mineral that is found in a broad selection of foods; from sardines and tuna to chicken, beef and Brazil nuts. In the case zinc, by eating regular amounts of spinach, seeds and beef the needed concentrations of this mineral will be achieved.

Regular physical activity combined with a balanced diet containing a wide range of fruits and vegetables; dairy products; seeds; nuts; and fish will deliver the necessary nutrients for maintaining a normal immune system.

Not everyone is in the same situation as there are some risk groups which are more vulnerable than others. Those who have a very high degree of physical activity or people following a very hectic lifestyle not sleeping enough or eating an unbalanced diet are more likely to have their immune system impacted.  Moreover, the aging process is somehow connected to a reduction in the ability to have a proper immune response when needed6. Providing the body with a balanced nutrition that is tailored to individual needs in combination with keeping a healthy active lifestyle will help most of the people and not only those at a higher risk. Along with a healthy-nutritious diet, dietary supplements are part of the preventing actions in particular among those in high-risks groups in the population7.

A report from the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) in the U.S concluded that significant cost savings could be potentially obtained through the intake of dietary supplements. Many studies have shown that supplements have positive effect on reducing the risk of certain diseases events7.

Overall, lifestyle factors such as high stress levels, being sedentary and a diet lacking of key nutrients are known for playing a part in increasing levels of inflammation which is directly connected with a weaker immune system8. From a nutritional point of view, reducing the consumption of over processed foods, alcohol and saturated fats while increasing the selection of vegetarian foods could potentially support the immune system By eating a selection of fruits and vegetables in combination with the meat, eggs, nuts and seeds and prioritising having them in the daily diet, those immune protective nutrients should be easily available. Additionally, food supplements can be used to meet daily intake levels to complement the diet.

Herbalife promotes a balanced nutrition and recommends having a wide variety of foods to obtain the full array of nutrients.

Herbalife Global Nutrition Philosophy focuses on providing a recommendation to follow a healthy active lifestyle with a balanced nutrition in a personalized way. The daily nutrients recommendation is broken down into the following:

Up to 30% of the total calories from the diet should come from protein; 30% from fats and 40% from carbohydrates together with a minimum of 25 grams of fibre and a regular intake of essential fatty acids (omega 3 and 6). All of these nutrients could be obtained from food and food supplements. This diet should be accompanied with plenty of hydration, regular physical activity and sufficient rest.

Among its product’s range, Herbalife offers macronutrients (vegetarian protein) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and fibre). Formula 1 meal replacement delivers around 18 grams of protein when prepared with semi skimmed milk, and more than 20 vitamins and minerals to support overall nutrition. Formula 2 is a multivitamin to boost the selection of micronutrients, Vitamin A, B6, B9, B12, C, D, iron, zinc, copper and selenium contribute to the normal function of the immune system when the diet needs to be supplemented to achieve the daily Nutrition Reference Values (NRVs).

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References

  1. Huang, C. J., Zourdos, M. C., Jo, E., & Ormsbee, M. J. (2013). Influence of physical activity and nutrition on obesity-related immune function. Scientific World Journal, 2013, 752071. doi: 10.1155/2013/752071
  2. Mangge, H., Becker, K., Fuchs, D., & Gostner, J. M. (2014). Antioxidants, inflammation and cardiovascular disease. World J Cardiol, 6(6), 462-477. doi: 10.4330/wjc.v6.i6.462
  3. Nourazarian, A. R., Kangari, P., & Salmaninejad, A. (2014). Roles of oxidative stress in the development and progression of breast cancer. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev, 15(12), 4745-4751.
  4. Jaremka, L. M., Fagundes, C. P., Peng, J., Bennett, J. M., Glaser, R., Malarkey, W. B., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2013). Loneliness promotes inflammation during acute stress. Psychol Sci, 24(7), 1089-1097. doi: 10.1177/0956797612464059
  5. Ross, A. C., Caballero, B., Cousins, R. J., Tucker, K. L., & Ziegler, T. R. (2014). Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease (11th ed.). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  6. Prelog, M. (2006). Aging of the immune system: a risk factor for autoimmunity? Autoiimune Rev,5(2), 136-9.
  7. Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). Smart Prevention- Health Care cost savings resulting from the targeted use of dietary supplements.
  8. Huang, C. J., Zourdos, M. C., Jo, E., & Ormsbee, M. J. (2013). Influence of physical activity and nutrition on obesity-related immune function. Scientific World Journal, 2013, 752071. doi: 10.1155/2013/752071