Can you support the immune system with nutrients and thus make you “fit” against infections? “Immunonutrition” – that is, strengthening the immune system through the supply of certain nutrients – is primarily known from intensive care medicine, but is also becoming increasingly important in disease prevention.
The experts at the Med-Uni show what role personal nutritional status plays and how optimal nutrient intake can support the immune system even in phases of viral infections. Regional specialties such as horseradish, beetle beans and pumpkin seed oil also play a role here, along with other regional foods.
Experts see an urgent need to catch up
As is so often the case, nutrition is important because the function of the immune cells and the metabolism are closely linked. “Changes in nutritional status, for example, have effects on hormones and the function of the immune cells. In civilized society, despite the oversupply of food, we often find a lack of micronutrients – the so-called ‘hidden hunger’. Body fat mass is of particular immunological importance, ”said Sandra Holasek and Sonja Lackner from the Otto Loewi Research Center at the Graz University of Technology.
41 percent of the Austrian population are overweight or obese. “Especially with important key micronutrients for our immune system such as beta-carotene, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin B2 and vitamin B6, B12, vitamin C, iron and folic acid, according to the current breakthrough in nutrition in Austria, large sections of our population do not achieve the recommendations,” she said Experts.
The right nutrient composition
You have summarized examples of nutrients whose immune function is a possible support of the immune system in challenging times:
- Polyphenols and carotenoids: These two nutrient groups have a strong influence on the distribution and expression of body fat mass and contribute significantly to immune control.
Ideal suppliers: apples, dark berries, spices (e.g. cinnamon, caraway, rosemary, thyme), dark chocolate / cocoa powder, asparagus, carrots, onions, spinach, kale, legumes (peas, beetle beans, lentils), nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts , Almonds), chestnuts
- Iron: Iron plays a major role in the expression of the immune response. An iron deficiency, for example, leads to a change in the number of T-lymphocytes (helper cells).
Rich in iron: pork liver, rump steak, sesame seeds and oil, pumpkin seeds, amaranth, beans, lentils, linseed, oats, spinach
- Zinc: Zinc deficiency also affects the T cells in the immune system. Zinc remains stable during chemical processes in the body and is an essential component of antioxidative enzymes.
Good sources of zinc: lamb, pork liver, beef shoulder, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and oil, oats, lentils, hard cheese
- Selenium: Selenium is a component of antioxidative enzymes and protects the immune cells against oxidative stress.
Selenium suppliers are: egg yolk, wholegrain wheat cereals, sesame seeds and oil, peanuts, fish
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A plays an important role especially in the regeneration of skin and mucous membrane and thus supports the natural barrier against the entry of viruses. It is also essential for the immune system.
Rich in vitamin A: pork and beef liver, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, melons, red peppers
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D controls a number of physiological functions related to the immune system. A vitamin D deficiency can also be observed worldwide in countries with many hours of sunshine, which is why a vitamin D-rich diet comes into focus.
This is supported by mackerel, salmon trout, rainbow trout, eel, herring, salmon, mushrooms.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant and therefore also cell protection in immune reactions. It is also u. a. crucial for the functionality of proteins and fatty acids as well as the production of antibodies.
Important sources of vitamin E: wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, olive oil, Styrian pumpkin seed oil, hazelnuts, almonds, kale, chickpeas
- Vitamin C: One of the most important water-soluble antioxidants is vitamin C. It plays a major role in redox cell signaling, an important regulatory mechanism of the immune system. For example, smokers in particular have an increased vitamin C requirement by up to 50 percent.
The following foods are particularly rich in vitamin C: bell pepper, black currants, kale, broccoli, kiwi, oranges, sea buckthorn, horseradish
- B vitamins: This vitamin group plays an important role in energy metabolism and cell building. The B vitamins also ensure that the immune cells are well supplied and regenerated. B vitamins are mainly found in animal foods, which is why vegetarians are more likely to suffer from a deficiency.
These foods are rich in vitamin B: beef liver, mussels, tuna, mackerel, herring, rainbow trout, nori seaweed, beef shoulder, eggs, milk, cheese (B12). Spinach, beef liver, beans, cabbage sprouts, chickpeas, quinoa, strawberries, sunflower seeds, egg yolk (folic acid), beef liver, wild salmon, chicken breast, potatoes, bananas, tuna, Chinese cabbage, pistachios, amaranth, sunflower seeds, lentils (B6)
Variety and freshness
“The different spectrum of action of the individual nutrients makes a diverse food selection necessary. A plant-based diet with a high proportion of fresh food and a moderate proportion of high quality animal products meets these criteria, ”the experts recommend. In addition to mindful nutrition to strengthen the immune system, it also depends on the totality of lifestyle factors: exercise, stress, sleep quality, nutritional status including overweight and underweight, smoking, alcohol consumption and the individual health condition interact with the individual immune function.