5 Type of Foods to Boost Your Immune System

foods for your immune system
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In alternative medicine, certain foods are considered helpful for boosting the immune system and preventing colds and the flu. Keep in mind that so far, scientific support for the claims that any food can improve the functioning of the immune system is lacking.

1) Foods High in 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.

There's some evidence that vitamin C may be particularly helpful in boosting the immune systems of people under major stress. To increase your vitamin C intake, add these foods to your diet:

  • citrus fruits and juices (such as orange and grapefruit)
  • kiwi fruit
  • red and green peppers
  • broccoli
  • strawberries

2) Foods High in 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. To get your fill of vitamin E, look to these foods:

  • wheat germ oil
  • almonds
  • sunflower seeds
  • hazelnuts
  • peanut butter

3) Foods High in Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral involved in the production of certain immune cells. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) caution that even mildly low levels of zinc may impair your immune function. Here are some top food sources of zinc:

  • oysters
  • baked beans
  • cashews
  • raisin bran
  • chickpeas

4) Foods High in Carotenoids

Another type of antioxidant, carotenoids are a class of pigments found naturally in a number of plants. When consumed, carotenoids are converted into vitamin A (a nutrient that helps regulate the immune system). Look to these foods to boost your carotenoids:

  • carrots
  • kale
  • apricots
  • papaya
  • mango

5) Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acid known to suppress inflammation and keep the immune system in check. Although it's not known whether omega-3s can help fight off infections (such as the common cold), research suggests that omega-3s can protect against immune system disorders like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Try these omega-3-rich foods:

  • oily fish (including mackerel, tuna, salmon, sardines, herring, and trout)
  • flaxseed
  • walnuts

More Foods for Boosting the Immune System

To keep your immune system healthy, it's important to get sufficient sleep, exercise regularly, and manage your stress. Although supplements containing high doses of antioxidants and other nutrients found in whole foods are often touted as natural immune-boosters, some research indicates that taking dietary supplements may have limited benefits for the immune system.

For more foods that may help boost your immune system, try adding garlic, foods high in probiotics (such as yogurt and kefir), and green tea to your diet.

If you're considering using it, talk to your doctor to weigh the potential risks and benefits. Keep in mind that alternative medicine should not be used as a substitute for standard care. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Sources:

Calder PC, Kew S. "The immune system: a target for functional foods?" Br J Nutr. 2002 Nov;88 Suppl 2:S165-77.

Chew BP, Park JS. "Carotenoid action on the immune response." J Nutr. 2004 Jan;134(1):257S-261S.

Gill H, Prasad J. "Probiotics, immunomodulation, and health benefits." Adv Exp Med Biol. 2008;606:423-54.

Hughes DA. "Effects of dietary antioxidants on the immune function of middle-aged adults." Proc Nutr Soc. 1999 Feb;58(1):79-84.

Kyo E, Uda N, Kasuga S, Itakura Y. "Immunomodulatory effects of aged garlic extract." J Nutr. 2001 Mar;131(3s):1075S-9S.

Simopoulos AP. "Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases." J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Dec;21(6):495-505.

Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. "Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions." Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50(2):85-94.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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