Can An Apple A Day Really Keep The Doctor Away?
It just might.
Everyone has their go-to remedies to help "boost" immunity, like eating garlic, drinking a glass of orange juice, or maybe the most famous of them all, eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away. Do those remedies actually help strengthen your immune system? As another cold and flu season creeps upon us and as children begin to transition back to classrooms, I thought now would be a perfect time to go over important nutrition information that actually can help strengthen your immune system.
What Does The Immune System Do?
Our immune system in a nutshell is our body‘s mechanism for fighting off harmful pathogens that cause illness. The immune system has multiple lines of defense and is equipped to protect us from these harmful pathogens we are exposed to on a daily basis. Our body’s first line of defense includes our skin, mucus membranes, stomach acid, enzymes in our sweat and tears, and our immune system’s cells. If our first line of immunity fails to keep out harmful pathogens, the adaptive or acquired immunity mechanism is activated. This is the part of our immune system that learns how to recognize a pathogen by creating antibodies to fight off the foreign pathogen. These antibodies remember these foreign pathogens and are equipped to fight them off if they are to enter again.
What Can Influence Our Immune Response?
There are a number of factors that can weaken our immune response.
Chronic Disease: Having any pre-existing disease will reduce your immune system’s ability to function properly.
Overweight/Obese: Being overweight or obese causes our bodies to be in a constant state of inflammation. This constant state of inflammation has been shown to impact our immune system‘s ability to function properly.
Age: As we age, our organs begin to work less efficiently. This includes our immune system related organs, thymus and bone marrow, which produce less immune cells as we get older.
Stress: When we experience any physical or mental stress, our bodies release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol impacts our body’s inflammatory processes, which can effect the way our immune system functions.
Lack of Sleep: During sleep our bodies repair and restore themselves. Lack of sleep inhibits our bodies from repairing themselves properly due to its decreased ability to produce enough cytokines-an important aspect of immune function.
Poor Diet: Eating a diet that is not well balanced with a variety of nutrients can lead to malnutrition. Malnutrition can impact our bodies ability to create immune cells and antibodies.
Immune Boosting Nutrients
Eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of macro- and micronutrients is crucial for maintaining our overall health. However, research suggests that certain nutrients are essential for proper immune health.
Vitamin a, vitamin c, vitamin d, vitamin e, vitamin b6, iron, selenium, and zinc all prove to be important nutrients for maintaining proper immune function. Some of these nutrients serve as antioxidants to help protect our bodies cells from harmful free radicals while others help support the growth of cells and antibodies. Yes, it is great to know what vitamins and minerals to consume to help keep our immune systems functioning properly, but where can we find these nutrients? Great question! Listed below are some sources of the vitamins and minerals mentioned above:
Sources of Vitamin A: meat, fish poultry, dairy, carrots, butternut squash, spinach, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, broccoli
Sources of Vitamin C: oranges, potatoes, kiwis, tomatoes, strawberries, red bell peppers, cauliflower
Sources of Vitamin D: milk, mushrooms, egg yolks, oily fish, chicken, cheese, turkey
Sources of Vitamin E: wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, peanut butter, spinach, collard greens, pumpkin, asparagus, avocado
Sources of B6: salmon, fortified tofu, beef, sweet potatoes, bananas, pistachios
Sources of Iron: red meats, poultry, beans, green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, dried fruit (apricots and raisins)
Sources of Selenium: brazil nuts, seafood and organ meats
Sources of Zins: red meats, oysters and other shellfish, chickpeas, seeds, nuts, dairy products, eggs
Good For Your Gut
Over the last decade, research involving the gut microbiome has highlighted the important role our gut microbiome plays in maintaining our overall health. It is to no surprise that having healthy gut bacteria can help protect our immune health as well. Research shows that a plant-forward diet rich in fiber supports the growth and maintenance of beneficial gut bacteria. Plant-based, fiber-rich foods associated with these benefits include whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Certain microbes can actually break down fibers into short chain fatty acids, which have also been associated with stimulating immune cell activity. These fibers are known as prebiotics and they provide nourishment for our gut microbes. Probiotics, which also prove to be beneficial for our gut health, can be found in fermented foods, like kefir, yogurt, kombucha, pickles and sauerkraut.
The use of herbals to help prevent illness is something that has been passed down through generations, especially in Naturopathic or Chinese Ayurvedic Medicine, but do they work or is it merely a placebo effect? Common herbals used as immune boosting remedies include Echinacea, garlic, ginger, and tea catechins. Research involving these herbals all seem to point to the notion that they are mostly placebos and their health claims have little to no validity.
Can An Apple A Day Really Keep The Doctor Away?
Potentially. This saying does have some validity to it being that apples contain a variety of beneficial nutrients! For example, apples contain prebiotics, flavonoids, and vitamins A, C as well as some B vitamins. It is important to remember, however, that proper immune function is not solely influenced by one thing. Although eating an apple a day will not necessarily save you from getting sick, it is one habit that will provide your body with a variety of beneficial nutrients!