Dark green vegetables are pure functional foods, including spinach, kale and broccoli
With the cold and flu season upon us, we should be bracing ourselves for a deluge of questions from patients about how they can boost their immune system against not just the seasonal flu, but also COVID-19 and its variants. There is a wide range of nutritional supplements that can help protect the body against pathogens, but not be left out are the pure functional foods that benefit immunity.
A partial list of immunity-boosting supplements would include vitamins C and D; zinc; elderberry; echinacea; and garlic. However, boosting the immune system takes more than just daily nutritional supplements.
Pure functional foods: you are what you eat
This adage certainly holds true when it comes to the immune system. The healthier you eat, the stronger your body will become, so the more likely it will be able to fight off pathogens.
The key is to focus on foods that fight off inflammation. There is a wide range of foods that can offer this protective benefit, including:1-3
- Dark green vegetables are pure functional foods, including spinach, kale and broccoli, rich with antioxidants
- Nuts, seeds, and legumes are also good sources for antioxidants
- Citrus fruits, which are an excellent source of vitamin C
- Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and chia seeds, promote heart health
- Certain fermented foods, like yogurt or sauerkraut, keep the digestive system in balance
Keep patients moving
Regular, moderate exercise is always good for staying healthy. However, a 2015 article from the journal Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science reported on research showing that not only can it help boost the immune system in general, but it may also improve the effectiveness of vaccines for those people with compromised immune systems.4
Moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming and steady cycling, also helps reduce inflammation by keeping the circulation system moving. In general, the goal should be 30 minutes of daily exercise for five days of the week.
Don’t stress about it
Biologic stressors, such as viruses or bacteria can lower the body’s immune system, leading to long-term, chronic inflammation. However, emotional stressors, such as depression or anxiety, can also have the same effect on the body.5
A daily mindful practice, such as meditation or yoga, can go a long way toward boosting the immune system, particularly in combination with regular exercise.
Your patients may also have questions about complementary therapies to boost their immune system in lieu of getting either the COVID-19 vaccines or booster shots. Despite what is reported in some media, supplements alone cannot replace vaccines and do not provide any protection against becoming infected with COVID-19.
In fact, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has specifically stated that “there is no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent or cure COVID-19.”6 Instead, these therapies should be considered as additional protection, on top of the vaccine or booster shot.
- Serafini M, Peluso I. Functional foods for health: The interrelated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory role of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and cocoa in humans. Current Pharmaceutical Design. 2016;22(44):6701-6715.
- Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Epel ES, Belury MA, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids, oxidative stress, and leukocyte telomere length: A randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2013;28:16-24.
- Wu HJ, Wu E. The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut Microbes. 2012;3(1):4-14.
- Simpson RJ, Kunz H, Agha N, Graff R. Exercise and the regulation of immune functions. Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science. 2015;135:355-380.
- Dhabhar FS. Effects of stress on immune function: The good, the bad, and the beautiful. Immunologic Research. 2014;58(2-3):193-210.
- COVID-19 and “Alternative” Treatments: What You Need To Know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. National Institutes of Health. Updated Oct. 15, 2021.