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The Immune System and Nutrition

Disclaimer: The following is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should refer to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), or other credentialed public health authorities for up-to-date information for proper measures to reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19.

The situation resulting from the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused us, like many individuals, concerns regarding the safety of our friends and family. GenoPalate strongly cares about the health of our customers, not only in the immediate future but long-term. 


We, like many other organizations, have been following the events and health recommendations surrounding the outbreak closely over the past few weeks. We recognize the anxiety this situation has caused to many individuals as well as the critical strain that this pandemic has placed on healthcare workers and organizations as they continue to help manage the outbreak of COVID-19. 


We hope to do our part to help reduce the speed and limit the spread of this disease by providing you with information and ongoing education to better protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming ill by understanding how you can create a strong immune system.

Your Immune System and Prevention of COVID-19

Preventing infection is your first line of defense. In order to understand how not to get sick, it helps to understand how you could become ill from this virus, how your immune system works to protect you, and how to boost your immune system with the foods that you eat.

How does COVID-19 spread?

1. People exposed to an infected animal 

2. Infected person-to-healthy person contact (via respiratory droplets including coughing, sneezing, runny nose) 

3. Close contact with an infected person

How does our immune system defend against viruses?

Our immune system is a complex network of organs, tissues, and cells that work together to try and keep disease-causing microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and yeast, out of our bodies. The immune system also functions to break them down and eliminate them if they happen to get into our bodies.


The first barrier of our immune system is our skin or epithelial tissue. Our skin acts as the boundary between microbes or foreign antigens and our internal system. This is why taking measures such as washing your hands properly, covering your mouth, and not touching your face are all recommended steps to help reduce the risk of infection. If a virus or other antigen does get past this barrier, your internal immune system will produce antibodies and proteins to attack the pathogen and eliminate it from the body. 


If a virus is introduced to the body, such as through touch or a cut, being inhaled, a mosquito bite, or being ingested, and the body does not detect the virus immediately, the virus will attach to a cell (host cell) and uses the cell as a factory to replicate its own genetic material thus producing many more viruses. The cell eventually will die and break down, releasing the new virus particles out into the body so that they can find other host cells and repeat the process. 


In order to stop this cycle, our immune system is constantly producing lymphocytes or white blood cells. White blood cells include B-cells and T-cells. The B-cells have the task to patrol our bodies, detect these foreign antigens, and bind to them. The T-cells produce cytokines which further regulate the immune system as well as other specific cells that then activate the attached B-cells so that they can divide into cells that either produce antibodies or are “memory cells”.


The antibodies attach to the surface of the viral antigen and either neutralize the infected cell by preventing it from communicating with other cells or mark the cell for destruction by “eater cells”, including phagocytes and macrophages. The memory cells are important for future protection since they will be able to detect that specific virus antigen immediately and destroy it.

7 Nutrition Tips to Boost Your Immune System

While there is no one food or food group that can prevent us from becoming infected with a virus such as a coronavirus, good nutrition is essential to a strong immune system. Our diet can help us boost our immunity and protect against infection by producing essential components of the immune system and providing abundant antioxidants from many whole foods. Our diet can also help us maintain a healthy microbiome which is essential since up to 80% of our immune system is in our gut. Make sure to take care of it!

1. Get Adequate Protein

Protein plays a large role in our immune system by increasing the number of immune cells in the body and tissue repair. Excellent sources of protein including seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds.

2. Boost Your Vitamin C Intake

Vitamin C is essential to preventing infections by stimulating the formation of antibodies, increasing immunity, maintaining healthy tissue, and wound healing. Vitamin C rich foods include kale, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, red bell pepper, papaya, strawberries, and kohlrabi.

3. Try to Get the Recommended Amount of Vitamin A

Vitamin A helps protect against infections by keeping skin and membranes of the body healthy as well as helps to regulate the immune system. The pro-form of vitamin A is most abundant in animal sources, although many plants of the precursor of vitamin A, beta carotene, which can be converted into the pro-form. These foods include yams, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, fish, eggs, dairy, or fortified foods such as milk.

4. Consider Increasing Your Vitamin E

Vitamin E works as an antioxidant, neutralizes free radicals and promotes the differentiation of immature T cells. Incorporate more vitamin E into your diet by adding vitamin E rich oils such, as sunflower or safflower, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, almonds, and peanut butter.

5. Elevate the Amount of Selenium in Your Diet

Selenium may be one of the most underestimated nutrients when it comes to defending against viruses. Selenium helps to increase the immune response, promote a faster T-cell response, produce more T-cells as well as cytokines, and increase levels of the body’s own antioxidant, glutathione. Excellent sources of selenium include brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, egg yolks, seafood, and certain grains.

6. Attempt to Get Plenty of Zinc

Zinc helps the immune system work optimally by proper T cell function, increasing antibody production, and helping with wound healing. Foods that are rich in zinc can are lean meats, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans, seeds, and nuts.

7. Increase Other Immune-Boosting Nutrients

Additional nutrients such as probiotics, found in many fermented foods, pre-biotics, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B6, and folate also play a role in maintaining a strong immune system and overall good health.

Bonus Tips!

1. Go for a walk in the sunshine and enjoy being in nature. 

2. Call a friend or family member to stay connected. 

3. Take advantage of social distancing! 

4. Is there a book on your bookshelf you’ve been longing to read? Photos you’ve been wanting to organize? A puzzle you’ve been wanting to tackle? Indulge in these activities to have fun while you are reducing contact.


Yours in health, 

Sherry Zhang, Ph.D. 

Founder & CEO


Next Steps?

Now that you've learned a bit about how nutrition can impact your immune system, you can do a couple of different things:


1. Read the next installment of our Immunity Series: Healthy Meals to Support Immunity to continue learning. 

2. Discover the best foods for your genes and start Eating For Your Genes through our Nutrition DNA Test

References

1. Huang, Z., Liu, Y., Qi, G., Brand, D., & Zheng, S. G. (2018). Role of Vitamin A in the Immune System. Journal of clinical medicine, 7(9), 258. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm7090258 


2. Carr, A., & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients, 9(11), 1211. doi:10.3390/nu9111211 


3.Lewis ED, Meydani SN, Wu D. Regulatory role of vitamin E in the immune system and inflammation. Iubmb Life. 2019 Apr;71(4):487-494. DOI: 10.1002/iub.1976. 


4. Fitzgibbon, G. and Mills, K.H.G. (2020), The microbiota and immune‐mediated diseases: Opportunities for therapeutic intervention. Eur. J. Immunol., 50: 326-337. doi:10.1002/eji.201948322 


5. Gombart, A. F., Pierre, A., & Maggini, S. (2020). A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System-Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection. Nutrients, 12(1), 236. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12010236 


6. hopkinsmedicine.org 


7. hmpdacc.org

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