Understanding Your Immune System: Why Food Quality Matters
The body is a symbiotic entity that needs specific essential nutrients to function at its best. Without all these crucial vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, systems within the body will begin to falter, leaving others to either fall in their footsteps or work harder to pick up the slack. There are two main options for getting the nutrients your body needs: through food or through supplementation.
Immune function relies on several nutrients to ensure it can fight off foreign invaders such as viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. For a healthy immune system, the nutrients a person needs the most include vitamins C, B2, B6, B12, D, E, and A, as well as folate, iron, selenium, and zinc. But how does nutrition affect the immune system? Read on to find out, and to discover exactly why food quality matters when it comes to immunity.
How does nutrition affect the immune system?
Many studies have shown that deficiencies in any single nutrient can cause the immune system to falter. Take vitamin C as a specific example. Without vitamin C, the body’s ability to stimulate the production of leukocytes (white blood cells that fight disease) is hindered. Since vitamin C is also a key player in maintaining immune cell integrity, it is absolutely required for the immune cells to function at their best.
Another important nutrient is vitamin A. The vitamin is needed by both the innate and acquired immune systems to help with various protective roles. When it comes to innate immunity – the part that is with you from birth – vitamin A helps to maintain the structure of mucosal cells that are found in the eyes, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary tracts. Since these areas act as barriers against infections, keeping their structure intact is important for immune health. Vitamin A also plays a role in the function of immune cells that mediate the acquired immune system – the one that’s built up over time and exposure.
Good nutrition is a key element of the health of the immune system. These are just two of the many important nutrients required for strong immune function.
Food quality and immune function
It’s not just what nutrients a person is eating that affects their immune system. It’s also the quality of the food in which the nutrients are found that plays a role in the overall health and function of immunity. There are many food quality factors that may play a role in how bioavailable nutrients are, as well as what happens when we consume lower-quality food.
Soil depletion is the process of removing components crucial to the fertility of the soil without replacing them. This process leads to foods growing in soil that has fewer nutrients, thus affecting the food’s own nutritional value. Research has shown that continued farm practices to produce bigger crop yields with more pest resistance and the ability to adapt to climate has made food significantly less nutritious than it used to be.
Bioavailability of nutrients
Bioavailability refers to how well a nutrient is absorbed into the body. This process is a huge determining factor in how much of the vitamins and minerals a person eats actually stay within their body long enough to do any good. If a person is not healthy, they may be experiencing less bioavailability of nutrients in the foods they eat.
Fertilizer can be a good or bad thing, depending on how it’s used, and what type is used. Some fertilizers can increase nutritional content in foods, while others can deplete it.
Pesticides are used in crops to keep bugs and bacteria away in order to preserve as much of the food as possible for human consumption. Pesticides are typically safe to be used; however, some could have the potential to be toxic when eaten. If too many pesticides are eaten with food (even healthy food), a person could suffer from adverse health effects, including a weakened immune system.
Antibiotics are used in animals to help keep potentially harmful bacteria out of food supplies. However, if antibiotics in food-producing animals are used too often, those animals can develop antibiotic resistance, which means that harmful bacteria are free to live within their bodies right up until they are eaten by humans. With an increased risk of infection, there is a chance that a person could suffer from a weakened immune system brought on by food-borne bacteria.
Organic versus non-organic
Organic and non-organic foods are produced differently; however, they both typically have all the same vitamins and nutrients. The difference is that organic foods are free from pesticides and likely have less drug-resistant bacteria.
All the factors that go into producing the food people eat will determine just how healthy each food is and how much of its nutrients your body is getting when you eat it. So, why does the immune system depend on healthy food? Simply because it needs it to function at its best. The healthier food options available, the easier it will be to get all the essential vitamins, minerals, and trace elements the body needs to keep everything running smoothly.
It can be hard to know the level of soil depletion or the type and state of fertilizer used to grow the food you get in the supermarket. But making healthier choices, buying local, and choosing foods that haven’t been subjected to heavy pesticide use or antibiotics can be a great help in getting the best quality food for your immune system.