The Impact Of Diet On Immunity And Respiratory Diseases
The old saying “you are what you eat” may be a tired cliché, but there’s a good reason it’s stuck around: it’s kind of true! The foods you eat (and don’t eat) both play a key role in your overall health. This is because the body needs various nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for it to perform all of its various functions.
Think of your body as a car that needs fuel or electricity to run. If it doesn’t get enough of those things, it won’t drive. The fuel that your body needs comes in the form of food. For us, the type of fuel we choose is especially important because not all foods will provide you with what you need, and some may even cause health issues.
Going back to the car analogy: imagine putting Pepsi into the fuel tank instead of gas. The gauge says full – much like your stomach does when you eat unhealthy foods – but that car is going to break down and the engine will be destroyed. The entire human body and all its organs can be helped or hindered by the food that you eat – but what is the impact of diet on immunity and respiratory diseases specifically?
What is the Western diet?
The Western diet, which is adopted by many people living in the Western world, tends to be chock-full of less-than-healthy food choices. The foods that reign supreme in a typical Western diet include:
- Pre-packaged foods
- Refined grains
- Red meat
- Processed meat
- High levels of sugar
- High levels of “bad” fats
How does the Western diet affect the immune system?
The abovementioned foods, when eaten in moderate amounts once in a while, are not likely to do much damage to the body. However, people who eat a Western diet are often eating mainly these foods, and when they do, their body really feels it. When it comes to the immune system, the Western diet has a way of impairing its function. Studies have found that people who consume mainly Western-diet foods experience a negative change in the immune cells that live within the gut. These negative changes drive inflammation in the gut, which can lead to various digestive disorders.
The other effects that eating a diet low in nutrients and high in detrimental ingredients can have on the immune system include:
- Immune cells’ reduced ability to ingest bacteria that could cause harm to the body
- An increase in cytokines, which are pro-inflammatory proteins that can lead to widespread inflammation in the body and therefore worsened disease
- An imbalance in gut bacteria that can lead to disease
- An increase in the risk of autoimmune diseases
- Issues with how T-cells (immune cells) activate
- Reduced ability to absorb the proper nutrients
- A total reduction in the number of disease-fighting cells within the body
These negative changes cause a range of issues with how the immune system acts and reacts, which increases the risk of chronic disease and illness.
How are diet and respiratory health linked?
The respiratory system is comprised of various organs and other tissues, such as the lungs, airways, and blood vessels, that make breathing possible. When it functions appropriately, the respiratory system is the key to life, since your body needs oxygen at a constant rate to survive. According to the American Lung Association, there is a larger correlation between diet and respiratory health than people may have initially believed.
Diet can affect respiratory health because of the metabolism, which is the process that transforms the foods you eat into useable nutrients and other substances that can go where they need to throughout the body. Oxygen and food are what goes in, acting as “raw materials”; when the metabolic process is done, energy and carbon dioxide are the output.
The reason why diet can help with breathing is because of the types of food that produce carbon dioxide, the waste that needs to be exhaled from the body after oxygen has been used. Foods that are found mainly in the Western diet often produce more carbon dioxide. When there is too much of this gaseous substance within the body, tissues and organs in the respiratory system can become damaged and the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to other organs and tissues slows over time.
Studies have also looked at how diet affects respiratory health and have found that, when eating a diet that is high in antioxidants and other nutrients, it’s much easier to prevent respiratory diseases and even to manage them if they have already begun.
How are diet, immune function, and respiratory health linked?
While diet can have separate negative effects on both the immune system and respiratory diseases, there is a connection between all three. This is because a poor diet hinders both the immune system and respiratory health, but also because the body’s defense system plays a key role in whether or not a person is adequately protected against respiratory disease.
The body requires many different systems to operate symbiotically, and when they don’t, parts begin to break down, leading to other larger health issues. When it comes to the food you choose to fuel your body, knowing what to eat and what to avoid is the best way to help prevent any imbalance in the proper symbiosis that your body relies on.