nutrition and diet affect an individual’s immune system, epigenetic, the study of biological mechanisms that switch our genes on and off plays vital role in immune function.

While the idea of epigenetics might seem complex, consider the example of honeybees. Despite having the same DNA sequence, honeybees produce three different organisms—workers, drones and queens—and this is dependent on the diet that the larvae are fed. This demonstrates that while all worker bees are born with the genetic ability to become queens, the workers’ diet ultimately affects how their genes are expressed and manifest physically.

In the same vein, while all humans are 99.9% genetically identical, epigenetics make us unique by the different combinations of genes that turn on and off, which explains why some of us have red hair and others black, or why some of us have darker or lighter skin, for instance.

What we eat, where we live, how much we sleep, how we exercise, and even who we live with, all causes chemical reactions that can alter our health status. Added to the mix is our microbiome, which are the microorganisms we depend on to protect us against germs, break down food for energy, produce vital vitamins, and bolster our immune system.

The largest part of the immune system—approximately 70% of it—is located near the intestines, which monitors the intake of food and how the body uses it. This makes it critical for us to consume a balanced diet with the right vitamins, minerals, and nutrients while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This requires more than just changing the intake of one or two nutrients but involves balancing the entire diet to ensure that there is optimal nutrition intake at a cellular level.

Here are four essential groups of nutrients to help individuals strengthen their immune system.

Protein

Also known as the basic building blocks of the body, protein allows the body to manufacture antibodies that it requires to defend against invading viruses and bacteria. To ensure that we have sufficient levels of protein in our diet, we can eat more healthy protein foods such as fish, poultry, lean meats, soy foods, and low-fat dairy products.

Vitamins & Phytonutrients

Vitamins A and C, as well as phytonutrients are key players in immune system health. As one of the biggest immune system boosters, vitamin C encourages our body to produce antibodies that fight diseases. It is essential to maintain a daily intake of vitamin C as the body does not produce or store it. Vitamin A supports the health of our skin, tissues of our digestive tract and respiratory system.

Phytonutrients, which are found in vegetables and fruits, reduce our body’s oxidative stress, which may weaken its ability to fight off illnesses. A number of phytonutrients have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases, fight inflammation, lower blood pressure, and boost the overall health of our immunity system.

Probiotics & Prebiotics

The digestive system plays a central role in supporting immune function. The intestinal tract is the main route of contact with the external environment and is a pathway that contains microbiomes that aid digestion as well as the absorption of nutrients. Having the right gut bacteria has been associated with benefits such as weight loss, improved digestion, healthier skin, and most importantly enhanced immune function, although research in these areas is not conclusive or universally applicable.

Studies have shown that probiotics, which are “good bacteria,” are useful in maintaining the digestive system, and prebiotics—types of fiber that the human body cannot digest—serve as food for these probiotics.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, such as DHA and EPA, are healthy and essential types of fat which can be found in food such as chia seed and supplements such as fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids may enhance the functions of immune cells, which plays a large role in both the innate and adaptive system that responds to infections.

FROM AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR DR GOVIND SHUKLA, NUTRITION EXPERT

GOVIND SHUKLA

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Govind Shukla, Specializes in Pharmacology, Toxicology, Nutraceuticals & Herbal Drugs has published More than 100 research papers in National & International Journals. He is also a reviewer of International Journal of Pharmacology & pharmacotherapeutics, Chief editor of IJPNR Journal & Freelance Medical Writer for Different publication Groups including Lambert Academic Publishing Saarbrucken, Germany.