The immune system is one of the most complex systems in the body. It is critically important to take care of it so it can continue doing what it is meant to do – protecting our bodies from germs and viruses, recognizing and getting rid of things that may cause us harm, and fight against our own cells in the event something changes due to illness (like cancer).
Our immune response is our body’s way of protecting itself and getting rid of unwanted intruders such as viruses and bacterial infections. It does this by way of a biological process called inflammation. But, this same process gone awry may be the underlying cause of many common disease states including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, lupus, and other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
How does inflammation go the wrong way? Basically, we humans have two classifications of immunity: innate immunity and learned immunity. Innate immunity is the body’s generalized response when something (virus/bacteria/injury) occurs or invades our body. It is broad spectrum and ancient, occurring in most all living organisms. Your body has specialized sentinel cells (natural killer cells) stationed throughout the body that will alert the immune system to the presence of the intruder. The immune system on high alert causes a process of inflammation, which is the body’s ancient way of getting rid of intruders. Learned immunity is precise, stealth, and like a guided missile system. Both systems work together to defend the body from bacteria and viruses. Research now considers that, in disease states, this system has somehow gone awry. Inflammation overwhelms the body and may even be the cause of some disease.
So how do we take care of our immune system so that inflammation doesn’t go the wrong way? Diet plays a critical role in immune response.
Eat Whole Food Complexes
The very best thing you can do to take care of yourself is eat real, whole food. Since the whole complexes of vitamins are available only in whole food sources, it is logical that these necessary vitamin complexes are incorporated into our diets. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds offer a plethora of the most powerful antioxidants and vitamin complexes known to science. Research supports the intake of more fruits and vegetables to reduce disease proclivities including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Whole foods can replicate the host of immune boosting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants present in living foods. Conversely, processed foods are devoid of living enzymes and whole vitamin complexes. There is nothing that can be “added to/fortified” in canned or frozen foods, or food with preservatives and additives. The immune system works 24/7 and the constant demand to fight the internal and external environmental toxins, bacteria, viruses, and pathogens never ends. We must supply our bodies with the appropriate nutrients in order to maintain a homeostatic environment of good health.
Stay away from foods that increase inflammation
Sugar – Sugars decrease white blood cells’ ability to swallow up bacteria and causes a weakening of our resistance to infections/disease. Because of its impact on the pancreas and the higher demands for insulin reactions, it overtaxes our system and body chemistry.
Bad Fats – The fats found in processed foods and baked goods can create “free radicals,” which are really just loose electrons running amok, injuring cell membranes, initiating chain reaction chemical disruptions, and destroying enzymes and cellular DNA. Bad fats are those that are deep fried, or hydrogenated (chips/fried/baked goods), which increases the oxidative effect.
Alcohol – In excess, alcohol can inhibit bone marrow’s ability to regenerate red blood cells, stress liver function, deplete B vitamins, and dehydrate the body, all of which inhibit immune response and ability.
Caffeine – Since caffeine is a stimulant and diuretic, consuming too much of it can deplete the body of many nutrients and stress the adrenals. Overstressing the adrenals inhibits immune function.
Processed Foods – Over processed (stripping nutrients) and overcooked (leaching nutrients) foods are devoid of nutrients. They do not supply our immune system with the nutrients needed to function. Our digestive system, exposed to toxins from over processed foods, preservatives, pesticides, etc. is overwhelmed with clean-up duty, thus causing toxic buildup in the intestines and suppressing immune function.
Over Eating – Excessive quantities of food overwhelm the digestive system and leads to obesity, which leads to increased inflammation response and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Allergies – It’s important to avoid foods that you feel you are sensitive to or know that you are allergic to. Allergies can trigger an excessive immune response causing inflammation throughout the body. Allergens, when ingested, cause the gut to leak out large protein molecules that the immune system identifies as foreign. They mount an attack and inflammation reigns throughout.
Weight Control – Obesity’s role and effect on immune function and inflammation is often overlooked. We know that being overweight or obese is unhealthy, but it is interesting to note the biological component of obesity’s effect on immune function. Obesity makes people more prone to diseases like diabetes, atherosclerosis, stroke, and cancer. With obesity, immune cells called macrophages (a primary source of inflammation) appear in abundance in fatty tissue. When called to duty in the immune system, they gobble up the infectious agents. When people consume more food than their bodies can handle the fat cells swell, break, or leak. The macrophages swarm in to clean up and call for more help. As immune response mounts, so does the rate of inflammation. Chronic inflammation causes the body to turn on itself.
An unhealthy diet can have seriously harmful effects on your body’s chemistry and impact the immune system leading to an increase in inflammation and creating disease. Eat right to protect yourself!
By Cynthia (Cindy) Luisi, BA, WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach
- PubMed Health. “How Does the Immune System Work?” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 21 Sept. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072548/.
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- Monteiro, Rosário, and Isabel Azevedo. “Chronic Inflammation in Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome.” Mediators of Inflammation2010 (2010): 289645. PMC. Web. 29 Jan. 2018.
- Rimm, Eric B, and Jennie Laidman. “The Fiber Facts.” Harvard Health – The Fiber Facts, November-December 1996, Harvard Magazine, 1996, harvardmagazine.com/1996/nd96/health.html.