Friday, October 22, 2010

Food and Your Immune System

This time of year, when the cold and flu season starts up, many people start thinking about their immune system (and that of their children).  I don't know about you, but I would love to breeze right through winter without a single bout of cold or flu.  I also remember that it was about this time last year that Kellogg's got in trouble for touting Cocoa Krispies as helping to boost immunity in children.  While spraying sugary cereal with a bunch of anti-oxidant vitamins, and claiming it will help children fight off germs is ludicrous in my opinion, it does bring up a good point.  Can what we eat affect our immune system? 

There are several nutrients that have been shown to have potential in helping immune function.  These include vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and vitamin D.  There is also some evidence that even probiotics can help our immune system by increasing the beneficial bacteria in the gut.  However, that is not to say that taking large supplements of any or all of these nutrients will help keep us healthy.  In fact, you may remember the study they did on smokers where supplements of anti-oxidant vitamins actually increased the rate of lung cancers in the group.  Taking supplements of certain vitamins by themselves may do more harm than good in some instance and for some people.  We also know that being deficient in certain nutrients can have a detrimental effect on our immune function.

So, you may be wondering what dietary measures we can take to help our immune system?  Once again, the answer seems to be to eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods.  Take a look at your diet and make sure you are consuming foods that contain vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and vitamin D naturally.   Foods trump supplements because they contain many nutrients that work together in a beneficial synergistic manner (which supplements of one or more nutrients by themselves cannot match).  

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