IS NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY IMPAIRING YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM?
Colds, flus, viruses and infections seem to be rife in the winter months, with some more susceptible than others. People are increasingly looking for ways to strengthen their immune system – but how many know how important it is to address your digestive health first?
What is your immune system?
Most people think of the immune system as an army of white blood cells patrolling the body, but actually there is much more to it. Our first lines of defence against incoming pathogens are our skin and our digestive tract, where we have both a structural barrier and a network of bacteria helping us to keep sickness at bay. High levels of acidity in our stomach destroy a lot of pathogens that might come in with our food. But actually our whole body can be considered our immune system, as when we have good cellular function and high levels of vitality generally, the wheels of good health keep turning. A breakdown in function at any point can contribute to stagnation and inflammation, which naturopaths believe is where disease begins, and where external pathogens can then perhaps take hold.
What does your immune system need to stay healthy?
So with that in mind, your immune system needs all the nutrition your whole body needs to stay healthy. This includes proteins, fats, oils, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, hydration and other nutrients. This means not only do you need to have a varied and well-balanced diet, but also that you are digesting and absorbing nutrients well.
Poor nutrition and lowered immune function
UCLA research claims that “malnutrition is the primary cause of immunodeficiency worldwide…Micronutrient deficiencies have effects such as poor growth, impaired intellect, and increased mortality and susceptibility to infection.” Researchers point to a “vicious cycle” where poor diet leads to lowered immunity, damage to the gut mucosa, invasion by pathogens, diversion of nutrients for immune response and more, all of which cause reduced dietary intake, and so the situation can only worsen.
Immune function and zinc
As we now know, all nutrients are important to immune function, but zinc is often highlighted as it has many prominent roles, including in white blood cell activity, having anti-inflammatory properties, being a component of both digestive and detoxification enzymes, and in the production of stomach acid (which helps kill pathogens in food).
Supplementation with 75mg zinc a day has been found to reduce the duration of common cold symptoms in otherwise healthy people if taken within 24 hours of the cold starting. That’s a fairly high dose compared to the usual 10mg a day in the average western diet, but when you consider that the body contains 2000-3000mg zinc at any one time, and that your absorption of zinc may well be limited, it may well take something like 75mg to make up for any shortfall plus excess requirements to support the immune system. Zinc competes for absorption with a number of other nutrients, and zinc is also one of the minerals bound up by the phytic acid in nuts, seeds, grains and legumes. To reduce the effects of phytic acid, it is necessary to soak and ferment such foods, and you may also want to consider taking an enzyme formula that contains phytase.
Digestion advice to support your immune system
- Eat mindfully in a stress-free environment
- Chew your food well
- Drink water between meals – so you stay hydrated without diluting your stomach acid
- Ensure adequate zinc for stomach acid production
- Include foods that encourage beneficial bacteria (e.g. sauerkraut, kefir, miso, broad spectrum gut bacteria food supplements)
- Avoid foods that cause irritation (e.g. wheat, dairy, sugar)
- Consider a good quality digestive enzyme formula that includes phytase
Taken from an extract from an article from Nutrigold dated 20.11.14