5 Nutrients That Prevent Immunity-Malfunction
With cold and flu season coming to a close, the global spread of a new viral threat has everyone in the U.S. on heightened alert - and for good reason.
As concerns continue to rise, many people are looking for ways to protect themselves and stay healthy. While experts say training your immune system is something people need to be doing all year long, there are some steps people can take right now.
"As we know, most viral illnesses affect the elderly and immunocompromised individuals more,” says Dr. Chad Walding, Senior Wellness Expert & NativePath Co-Founder. “This is because with older age, the thymus and bone marrow produce less of the vital B and T cells, which are key players in keeping the immune system strong,” he continues.
But when it comes to maintaining healthy immune function, there’s one glaringly overlooked factor that Dr. Walding points to as having a significant impact on our ability to defend against illness; and that is our diet.
“We also know that older individuals have micro-nutrient deficiencies. We're seeing severe deficiencies in immunity-bolstering nutrients that's due to the lack of diversity in the foods that they're eating."
Therefore what we eat, and what we don’t eat, can play a massive role in how our immune system functions - and this is especially true for aging Americans who are already at a higher risk for contracting illnesses.
"Eating a variety of different types of nutrient-dense foods will help assure we’re getting the proper amount of vitamins, antioxidants and inflammation-fighting micronutrients needed to help our immune system function at its best. Not to mention, help make our white blood cells work even better," Dr. Walding affirmed.
In the following article, Dr. Walding explains the science and background of how certain foods and the nutrients they contain can help you and your family boost your immune system.
5 Nutrients That Boost Immunity,
According To Science
Zinc is an essential mineral for DNA synthesis and cell proliferation, and for this reason, highly proliferating cells, like immune cells, are dependent on an adequate supply of zinc.
Growth or function of different types of immune cells, like macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, T cells, and B cells become impaired by zinc deficiency.
Several studies have found the elderly to be at risk for zinc deficiency.
In fact, fewer than half of older adults in the United States consume adequate zinc. The problem is compounded because there may be a loss of absorption efficiency as we age.
“Because zinc is an essential mineral involved in the production of certain immune cells, maintaining an adequate zinc status can limit the decline in immune function that often occurs with age,” says Dr. Walding.
Research suggests that, especially for older people, maintaining an adequate zinc status may be of particular importance for preventing pneumonia*. For the elderly, infectious diseases such as pneumonia, are major—yet preventable—forms of illness.
In a study of older adults in nursing homes, those with normal serum zinc had a lower incidence of pneumonia and half as many antibiotic prescriptions compared to those with low serum zinc.
Studies involving older people supplementing with zinc suggest that improving zinc status improves immune system function and resistance to infection.
In a 2007 study, adults ages 55 to 87 had lower plasma zinc and higher oxidative stress and inflammatory markers compared to younger adults. Half of the older adults took zinc supplements for 12 months, and the other half took a placebo. The rate of respiratory infections and markers of inflammation and oxidative stress were lower in the zinc group than in the placebo group.
A 2016 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition gave zinc-deficient nursing home residents a zinc supplement or a placebo daily. After three months, the zinc group increased their serum zinc and T cell numbers*.
In addition to its role in the immune system, zinc also reduces oxidative stress, plays a structural role by stabilizing proteins, regulates the expression of many genes, and drives hundreds of chemical reactions in the body.
“The best way to achieve optimal zinc levels is to consume two to three servings of zinc-rich foods per day,” suggests Dr. Walding.
Doctor-Recommended Foods To Eat To Increase Zinc Intake:
- Grass-Fed Lamb: 3 ounces (45 percent DV)
- Pumpkin Seeds: 1 cup (44 percent DV)
- Hemp Seeds: 1 ounce (34 percent DV)
- Grass-Fed Beef: 100 grams (30 percent DV)
- Chickpeas: 1 cup (17 percent DV)
- Cashews: 1 ounce (11 percent DV)
#2.) Vitamin C
An essential nutrient, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants help fight free radicals, a type of unstable molecule known to damage the immune system.
Antioxidants are molecules that boost the immune system. They do so by protecting cells from harmful molecules called free radicals.
When free radicals accumulate, they can promote a state known as oxidative stress, which has been linked to many chronic diseases.
Studies show that consuming more vitamin C can increase your blood antioxidant levels by up to 30%. This helps the body’s natural defenses fight inflammation*.
Vitamin C also helps encourage the production of white blood cells known as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which help protect the body against infection*.
Studies have repeatedly confirmed the immune-boosting benefits of vitamin C. A review published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism showed that getting enough vitamin C may help reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections. Plus, vitamin C may also help decrease the incidence of other conditions like pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea as well*.
Because Vitamin C is an essential part of the skin’s defense system, it’s actively transported to the skin, where it can act as an antioxidant and help strengthen the skin’s barriers against viral pathogens and harmful toxins*.
“There are plenty of foods high in vitamin C, making it super easy (and delicious) to get in your daily dose. Fruits and vegetables, in particular, are excellent ways to boost your intake,” says Dr. Walding.
Doctor-Recommended Foods To Eat To Increase Vitamin C Intake:
- Kiwi Fruit: 1 cup (273 percent DV)
- Bell Peppers: 1 cup (200 percent DV)
- Orange: 1 cup (160 percent DV)
- Strawberries: 1 cup (149 percent DV)
- Broccoli: ½ cup cooked (84 percent DV)
- Brussels Sprouts: ½ cup cooked (81 percent DV)
SUMMARY: Vitamin C may boost immunity by helping white blood cells function more effectively, strengthening your skin’s defense system, and may help reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections.
#3.) Vitamin E
Like vitamin C, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant. Research suggests maintaining ample levels of vitamin E is crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system, especially among older people.
Certain isomers of vitamin E have powerful antioxidant abilities that have the power to reduce free radical damage, fight inflammation, and therefore help naturally slow aging in your cells and fight off health issues*.
Studies have shown that these can significantly increase immunity, therefore helping prevent both common illnesses and serious conditions from forming*.
Recent research suggests that for immune enhancement and antioxidant effects, the isomers alpha-tocotrienol, gamma-tocotrienol and to a lesser degree delta-tocotrienol seem to be the most effective.
“According to the USDA, the recommended daily allowance for collective vitamin E is 15 milligrams per day for adults. I recommend consuming two to three of the following vitamin E foods daily to meet your needs,” says Dr. Walding.
Doctor-Recommended Foods To Eat To Increase Vitamin E Intake:
- Sunflower Seeds: 1 cup — (220 percent)
- Almonds: 1 cup — (218 percent)
- Hazelnuts: 1 cup — (133 percent)
- Mango: 1 whole raw — (20 percent)
- Avocado: One whole raw — (18 percent)
- Butternut Squash: 1 cup cooked — (17 percent)
- Broccoli: 1 cup cooked — (12 percent)
SUMMARY: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body reduce free radical damage, fight inflammation, to defend against infections and illnesses.
#4.) Omega-3 Fatty Acids
When it comes to omega-3 benefits, there are rarely nutrients that pack this many positive health outcomes into one compound. The most commonly known benefit of omega-3s is a reduced risk of heart disease, but that’s not the only research-backed plus of adding more omega-3s in our diet.
“According to research, omega-3 fatty acids may also help to boost the immune system by enhancing the functioning of immune cells,” says Dr. Walding.
Researchers from Michigan State University and East Carolina University found that omega-3 fatty acids boosted activity of a white blood cell called a B cell, a vital part of the body's immune response*.
Notably, omega-3 fatty acids can also reduce the production of molecules and substances linked to inflammation, such as inflammatory eicosanoids and cytokines.
Studies have consistently observed a connection between higher omega-3 intake and reduced inflammation.
Doctor-Recommended Foods To Eat To Increase Omega-3 Intake:
- Atlantic Mackerel: 1 cup cooked (174 percent DV)
- Salmon Fish Oil: 1 tablespoon (119 percent DV)
- Walnuts: 1/4 cup (66 percent DV)
- Chia Seeds: 1 tablespoon (61 percent DV)
- Herring: 3 ounces (47 percent DV)
- Alaskan Salmon (wild-caught): 3 ounces (42 percent DV)
- Flaxseeds: 1 tablespoon ground (39 percent DV)
SUMMARY: Omega-3s can improve the activity of our immune cells, help fight several autoimmune diseases and reduce chronic inflammation, which is a primary contributor to chronic illness and disease.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, especially type I and type III collagen. It’s found in muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels, digestive system, and tendons.
Collagen benefits are so striking because this protein is what helps give our skin strength and elasticity, along with replacing dead skin cells. When it comes to our joints and tendons, in simplest terms, it’s the “glue” that helps hold the body together.
Interestingly, researchers are now starting to uncover the profound impact collagen can have on immunity.
One 2015 study measured the SIV (Scoring of Immunological Vigor) and other immunological, biochemical parameters in men and women between the ages of 30 and 59 to determine if collagen ingestion affected immunity. The study revealed that through 10 grams of daily collagen supplementation, over an eight week period, there was a significant improvement in the comprehensive immunological status of humans*. Those participants who took the placebo supplement did not show any immunological improvement.
Collagen also directly supports our body's immunity powerhouse; our digestive tract.
“Nearly 80% of your immune system is housed in our gut. Therefore, when gut health is less than optimal, toxins and infections can pass through our intestinal wall and into our bloodstream, causing inflammation. Over time this chronic inflammation can lead to autoimmunity, making us more susceptible to illness,” says Dr. Chad Walding.
Because the amino acids in collagen build the tissues that line the colon and GI tract, collagen can help prevent toxic seepage and related issues—like malabsorption of nutrients, autoimmunity, and more.
“The amino acids in collagen quite literally, “seal the leak” or perforations by supporting cellular health, tissue growth, and proper immune function starting in our gut,” he continues.
Despite the critical role collagen plays with our immunity and overall health, most adults are highly deficient - namely for two reasons:
1.) Our body’s stop producing it. As we grow older, our body’s collagen production naturally begins to slow down resulting in a degenerative process affecting joints, bones, skin and our first line of defense against illness - our gut health.
2.) Our modern diets lack it. While our ancestors consumed a collagen-rich diet, our modern eating habits don’t often include the same foods that civilizations before us did like bone marrow, fish skin, poultry cartilage, and animal organs such as hearts, livers, and eyes.
For these reasons, it’s important that we find an approach for getting more collagen in our diet that is practical and easy to stick to.
Doctor-Recommended Foods To Eat To Increase Collagen Intake:
“For those who can stomach them, these collagen-boosting foods can be very helpful but keep in mind - As we age, our body may no longer absorb nutrients as well or synthesize them as efficiently,” Dr. Walding says. “To make sure your body has enough ingredients to make collagen, dietary supplements can make all the difference.”
Here’s the collagen supplement that Dr. Walding and his patients use every day.
“For aging adults who are deficient in collagen, this is a convenient, affordable and highly effective way to improve not just immune function, but also overall health as we age,” says Dr. Walding.
SUMMARY: Daily collagen consumption is proven to boost immunological processes as well as improve the strength of the intestinal tract, where 80% off immune function occurs. For those who don’t find collagen-rich foods appealing, then they may want to consider taking a collagen supplement that contains type I & III fibers.
What Aging Americans Can Do To Strengthen Immunity And Steer Clear Of Unwanted Illnesses
“When it comes to immune function, the message is clear: take good care of your immune system, and it will take care of you,” says Dr. Walding.
As you’ve learned, our immune system becomes more susceptible to weakening with age, which can lead to serious, even fatal, health problems. In order to limit this decline, it is essential to maintain healthy immunity through a diet rich in phytochemicals and essential nutrients.
“This is why looking to food as medicine should be our top priority when it comes to upping our immunity defenses against illnesses - especially during this time,” continues Dr. Walding.
Science has shown that specific nutrients and amino acids can directly support proper immune function in a variety of ways, including increasing immune cell activity, fighting free radicals, and reducing inflammation.
Moreover, research also confirms that foods which fortify the gut, fortify our immune system.
Therefore while eating more of the immunity-boosting nutrients mentioned in this article will be beneficial for increasing immune function, if our gut health (where 80% of our immune function is contained) isn’t in check, we won’t be able to properly absorb and utilize the nutrients.
In other words, if we don’t reinforce our gut health, we won’t be able to experience the immunity-boosting benefits of consuming foods rich in zinc, omega-3s, vitamin A and C.
“This is exactly where a high-quality collagen supplement can make all the difference,” says Dr. Walding.
Supplementing with a premium collagen formula like NativePath Grass-Fed Collagen, which contains two targeted fiber types (type I & III), helps reinforce intestinal integrity to keep pathogens from seeping into our bloodstream.
As a result, collagen supplementation helps increase the absorption of immune-boosting nutrients from our diet to better maintain proper activity in immune cells while also encouraging the production of T-cell and B-cell immune factors.
“At NativePath, our collagen powder formula provides the same exact set of immune-modulating amino acids as food sources of collagen but has undergone a process called hydrolysis to break them down into shorter chains of proteins, thus making them more highly absorbable. This breakthrough in nutrition science allows the collagen to go to work within the body within an hour of ingestion,” says Dr. Walding.
Hydrolyzed collagen powder can be dissolved in hot or cold water and is odorless and tasteless, making it an easy (and virtually undetectable) addition to your morning coffee, tea, smoothies and more.
“With 10 grams of grass-fed hydrolyzed collagen per scoop, NativePath’s powerful daily collagen formula can help keep you feeling your best, inside and out - no matter what life throws your way,” Dr. Walding says.