What is it they say, prevention is better than cure? Whilst it’s a little early in the year for you to see the dreaded W word up on your screen, we know it's coming and even us, here at Fivaday HQ, pick up bugs when the weather turns!
So, are there things we can do to soften their blow when they rock up? In a nutshell, are there things we can do to support our immune system to fight the fight?
Of course there are, so let's get cracking.
The purpose of the immune system is to defend itself and keep microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and fungi out of the body and then destroy any if they happen to get in.
It has three lines of defence.
The innate immune system provides the first line of defence; broadly divided into physical/chemical barriers.
The physical barriers include the skin and the lining of the digestive and respiratory tract. You can think of the body like a sausage; the skin keeps everything in, but also things out.
Chemical barriers include tears and saliva along with gastric acid. But also, the microbiome – which is the community of microbes found in the mouth, lungs, gut and on the skin.
We then have the innate immune system – which is for want of a better phrase a row of white blood cells (and other participants) that engulf and destroy invaders.
The third defence is acquired or adaptive immunity – this is the memory bank. The cells involved in this response help the body remember antigens that it has encountered before – so it can mount a quicker response before the harmful pathogen causes any damage.
The immune system is trained to recognise its own cells as self and leave them to do their jobs. It is trained to recognise anything that isn’t self and attack it.
When it works, it works brilliantly and, well, we survive.
But for it to work, and to fight off those pesky bugs that seem to surround us during the winter, it needs certain nutrients and compounds.
Vitamin C contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. Vitamin C helps encourage the production of white blood cells known as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which help protect the body against infection. Sources of Vitamin C include red bell peppers and of course oranges!
Vitamin A helps maintain structural and functional integrity of mucosal cells in innate barriers (skin, respiratory tract etc). It is also important for the functioning of natural killer cells, macrophages, and neutrophils. In the adaptive immune response, vitamin A is necessary for the functioning of T and B cells and therefore for the generation of antibody responses to an antigen. In short, it pretty much runs a lot of the show!
Beta carotene is converted to Vitamin A in the body but beta carotene, like all carotenoids is an antioxidant, which protects the body from free radicals. Free radicals are produced by macrophages whilst fighting off invading germs, and these free radicals can then damage healthy cells leading to inflammation, so a diet rich in antioxidants can help mitigate the damage! Beta carotene is found in yellow, red and green leafy vegetables like spinach, carrots and red peppers.
In the innate immune system, vitamin B6 helps regulate inflammation and has roles in cytokine production and natural killer cell activity. In the adaptive immunity system, vitamin B6 plays a role in the metabolism of amino acids, which are the building blocks of cytokines and antibodies. B6 is also involved in lymphocyte proliferation, differentiation and maturation and it maintains Th1 immune responses. So, getting those B complex vitamins is pretty important for your immune function. As they are water soluble, there is often a high turnover, and they are often depleted in times of stress and being ill is certainly a stress on the body.
Perhaps one of the most talked about vitamins for immunity is vitamin D, as it stimulates immune cell proliferation and cytokine production, and it helps protect against infection caused by pathogens. It also demonstrates an inhibitory effect in adaptive immunity, suggesting that it is in fact an immune modulator. Low vitamin D status is usually associated with increased sickness rates.
But it’s not just vitamins and minerals that are crucial to immune function, certain compounds can also exert supportive effects. Polyphenols promote immunity to foreign pathogens via various pathways and you will find a number of these compounds in Fivaday.
If you would like to find out more about the benefits of Fivaday, take a look around.