There has never been more focus on health and immune systems than in 2020. With the potentially deadly virus ravaging almost every community on earth, many people began to focus their attention on ways to protect themselves and curb the spread. Like with many things, misinformation started running rife on the internet and in the media, and one of the most pedalled pieces of ‘advice’ has been centred around diet.
We’ve always been told to eat lots of vitamin C to boost our immune systems and reduce our risk of illness from diseases such as COVID-19, but can diet and food really boost our immune system?
The short answer is no, food won’t improve your immune system. In this article, we explain why.
Immune System Function
The immune system is the body’s way of fighting disease and keeping us healthy. Without it, we’d be poorly all the time as pathogens (viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites) run rife through the body and cause illness.
When the immune system comes into contact with pathogens, it deploys an emergency response. If it’s the first time the body comes into contact with a specific disease, its response will be slower as the body works out how to effectively fight it. Next time the body encounters that disease, it will be able to fight it faster as it learns from the first time.
There are several parts to your immune system, the first of which being your skin. Saliva, mucus and lymph system make up part of your larger immune system, with the majority of your immune system cells being in your gut.
Looking After the Immune System
A poor lifestyle can definitely impact how well your immune system works. Your immune system, like many other parts of your body, relies on a range of nutrients to function at its full potential. These nutrients include protein, zinc, iron, vitamin D, vitamin C and selenium.
This is where many people get confused and think that consuming large quantities of the above vitamins and nutrients will give them an extra healthy immune system, but this isn’t true. Consuming huge quantities of vitamins and nutrients won’t give you a ‘super’ immune system, they will just make it work normally. Extra nutrients aren’t absorbed by the body and are instead expelled, the process of which can have some unpleasant side effects.
Supermarkets and pharmacies are rife with vitamins and supplements, but unless your diet or body is specifically lacking certain nutrients which can’t be absorbed through food, you should avoid them. If there’s an issue with your vitamin levels, your doctor will advise you what to do. Generally speaking, unless your doctor has instructed you to take a supplement, you don’t need to.
To support a healthy immune system, make sure you eat a varied diet that is rich in fruit and veg. A good way to get a range of nutrients and vitamins into your diet is to eat lots of different coloured foods (not artificially coloured). For example, an orange, some broccoli, strawberries, a banana, cauliflower, avocado, aubergine, sweetcorn, peppers, and sweet potato are all things you can incorporate into your everyday meals. The more colours you can get in, the better.
The Vitamin C Myth
The media and the internet are saturated with lots of articles about the miracles of vitamin C and how it can do wonders for your immune system, and this means it’s one of the vitamins people actively take increased bouts of. Whilst it is beneficial to your overall health, consuming large quantities of it does nothing for your immune system. In fact, too much vitamin C can have the adverse effect and cause unpleasant symptoms such as nausea and cramps.
When you consume a huge amount of vitamin C, your body won’t use it all and will begin to remove it from the body through urine. So, not only will you experience unpleasant symptoms from too much, but your body will work to get rid of it, too.
There is no specific food that can give you a supreme immune system, but eating lots of fruit and vegetables and maintaining an active lifestyle will allow your body to operate a healthy immune response.