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The Complete Relationship between Diet and Immune System

If you were a picky eater as a young child, and your grandmother warned you against falling ill if you didn’t eat, it’s time to appreciate her wisdom! Nobody understands the relationship between nutrition and immunity better than grandmothers, ayurvedic doctors, and us, here at Balance Ayurveda.

Falling ill often is a sign you may not be eating a balanced diet, with foods that help the immune system. Why, you ask? Well, the equation is simple when you end up falling ill every other week, your doctor orders you to get tested, and you figure out a possible vitamin or nutrition deficiency in your reports. And where does this deficiency come from? Yes, your diet, or lack of a good diet thereof.

Can Diet Really Affect Immunity

The correlation between your diet and your immune system is NOT a myth. Just as you come down with a throat infection when you drink something ice-cold on a wintery night, the kind of food you consistently consume affects your immune system. Studies have shown that there are both; foods that boost the immune system and foods that weaken the immune system, like all other aspects of health and living.

Not consuming foods that help the immune system has associations with increased disease risk, greater risk of allergy, and impaired immune response. According to peer-reviewed research by ‘Cell’, Western diets tend to contain high levels of saturated fat, ultra-processed foods, added sugar and salt, and overall calories. This diet frequently lacks nutrients linked to optimal health and is strongly linked to a higher risk of developing chronic conditions. Western-style diets encourage the development of disease by causing inflammation and changing immune system function.

As lucky as we are, as Indians, our daily food preparations comprise a full circle of nutrition-packed spices, herbs, and ingredients that help boost the correlation between nutrition and immunity. Immunity-boosting foods in Ayurveda such as Turmeric, Ginger, Pepper, and more are a part of our daily meals, leaving us to rest assured that we’re taking in foods that help the immune system.

According to PubMed Central, Nutrient deficiencies may be more common in those consuming ultra-processed diets low in whole, nutrient-dense foods, which makes it clear that we should continue to follow a diet for immunity that is based on the ancient Indian science of Ayurveda.

Unhealthy diet and Immune system: The Ill-Effects

Poor nutrition and immunity have adverse effects on the body, which can impair the production and activity of immune cells and antibodies required to ward off chronic illnesses. In general, over-consumption of saturated fats such as those found in junk and processed foods has a detrimental effect on the immune system.

A poor diet that comprises foods that weaken the immune system, puts us at risk of contracting disease and reduces our ability to recover. This impaired immune function is the result of not getting enough energy and a deficiency of specific minerals and vitamins.

To understand this relationship better, let’s get into the science of it. Not so long ago, researchers at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging at the University of New South Wales investigated the unusual activation of T cells (white blood cells that are a central part of the adaptive immune response) in rats fed a high-fat diet.

A few days later, the rats that were fed a high-fat diet, showed decreased functioning of T cells. The increase in saturated fat in the diet increased the number of fats in the cell membrane, thus making the T cells more sluggish in defending the body.

This experiment showed that consuming a junk food diet, rich in saturated fat, is likely to impair the action of the immune system by making T cells slow and sluggish. So, consumption of a poor diet consequently affects the immune system.

Diet and Immune System: The Ayurveda Advantage

The best way to keep your immune system healthy is to support it with a wholesome, well-balanced diet, similar to what has been prescribed by Ayurveda. Immunity strengthening foods in Ayurveda are the best, most sustainable way to take care of your immune system, without worrying about catching illnesses or falling ill all the time.

If you really want to strengthen your immunity, there’s nothing like home-cooked Indian food with just the right ingredients. The best diet for immunity, according to Ayurveda, often consists of the following foods that help balance the 3 doshas in our bodies:

Whole Plant Foods:

The antioxidants in whole plant meals like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes may reduce inflammation by battling free radicals, unstable compounds that can cause inflammation when they pile up in your body at high levels. The fibre in plant meals supports your gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiota can strengthen immunity and prevent dangerous germs from entering your body through the digestive system.

Additionally, vitamin C, which is abundant in fruits and vegetables, may shorten the duration of the common cold. According to a study by Hamila (2013), vitamin C can be taken as a treatment when cold symptoms first appear or as a daily supplement to see if it decreases the frequency, length, or severity of the common cold.

Anti-oxidants:

Adequate levels of antioxidants prevent damage to the immune cells.The ability of antioxidants to destroy free radicals protects the structural integrity of cells and tissues. Turmeric is one such potent antioxidant and antiseptic that reduces inflammation and is excellent for wound healing, bone health, eyes, and skin. The desirable preventive or putative therapeutic properties of curcumin - a major component of turmeric have also been considered to be associated with its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Healthy Fats:

Olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids are both anti-inflammatory. The immune system can be suppressed by persistent inflammation, therefore these fats may help the body fight against diseases. By reducing inflammation, healthy fats like those in salmon and olive oil may improve your body's immune response to infections.

Fermented Foods and Probiotics:

Probiotics and fermented foods can strengthen your immune system by assisting it in locating and eliminating pathogens. Research suggests that a flourishing network of gut bacteria can help your immune cells differentiate between normal, healthy cells and harmful organisms. Probiotics are living, non-pathogenic organisms that are consumed with the goal of improving health.Commonly considered as an ayurvedic immunity booster food, Buttermilk effectively helps treat inflammation, gastrointestinal disorders, digestive disorders, spleen disorders, lack of appetite, and anemia. It is very useful in mitigating excessive Kapha and Vata doshas, especially during winter.

Now that you know just what to add to your diet for better immunity, consciously avoid foods like caffeine, alcohol, sugar-loaded desserts, refined carbs, and processed foods in general. To completely care for your immune system, choose the best ayurvedic supplements for immunity with Balance Ayurveda’s range of exceptional immunity care that includes: An Immunity Malt, Immunity Capsules, Immunity Drops, and a unique Swasthya Potli to add to your cooking!

Bibliography

Puertollano MA, Puertollano E, de Cienfuegos GÁ, de Pablo MA. Dietary antioxidants: immunity and host defense. Curr Top Med Chem. 2011;11(14):1752-66

Venter C, Eyerich S, Sarin T, Klatt KC. Nutrition and the Immune System: A Complicated Tango. Nutrients. 2020 Mar 19;12(3):818

Jillian. “Diet and the Immune System: What Is the Link?” Medical and Health Information, Medical News Today, 9 Apr. 2021, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-and-why-does-diet-influence-immune-function#Can-diet-influence-the-immune-system?

“Turmeric: Benefits and Nutrition.” Medical and Health Information, Medical News Today, 24 May 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/306981#positive-side-effects

“Western Diet and the Immune System: An Inflammatory Connection: Immunity.” Immunity, https://www.cell.com/immunity/fulltext/S1074-7613(19)30416-9?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS1074761319304169%3Fshowall%3Dtrue Accessed 10 Dec. 2022

Hamila, Nahed AA. Abu. “Early Childhood Caries And Certain Risk Factors In A Sample Of Children 1-3.5 Years In Tanta.” Dentistry 3000 4 (2013): 1-8.

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