Diet and Immune Function

Safe Under the Umbrella

Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.

Macrophages have identified a cancer cell (the large, spiky mass) and are injecting toxins into it to kill the tumor cell. Diet and other lifestyle factors have a signifincat impact on the ability of immune cells such as macrophages to perform their function properly.

Safe Under the Umbrella

How do you feel? Are you tired most of the time? Do you often get colds and the flu? The body has a number of defense mechanisms and when these defenses are breached, invading microorganisms can produce an infection. The immune system acts as a protective umbrella against the many infections that we face

The word immune comes from the Latin word immunus, meaning freedom from burden. Today, immunity means not being liable to disease. Our immune system includes the skin, saliva, thymus gland, lymph nodes, tear secretions, and blood cells and blood proteins which have specialized defensive functions.

Dietary and Lifestyle Factors that Influence Immune Function

Vitamin A deficiency has an impact on both sickness and death rates. Antibody production and white blood cell numbers are reduced in vitamin A deficiency. Beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A) and other carotenoids found in vegetables have important immune regulatory functions involving natural killer cells and white blood cells.

Deficiencies of iron, zinc, vitamins C and E all cause a weakened defense system, and a lowered resistance to disease. The body’s capacity to destroy bacteria and produce antibodies is thus impaired.

On the other hand, excessive intake of fat impairs the immune responses. Furthermore, excessive amounts of certain nutrients (zinc, iron, vitamin A, vitamin E, selenium) appear to be toxic to the immune system. Clearly, taking large doses of vitamin and mineral supplements would not be a safe practice.

Normal aging is accompanied by a decline in immune function. Obese individuals show a higher risk of infection with a decreased killing power of their neutrophils (white blood cells). The immune status of a person deteriorates as the level of obesity increases.

Regular exercise is an important way to stimulate the immune system. In one study, sedentary women who were asked to walk 45 minutes a day, five times a week, had less severe upper respiratory infections than the women who did not exercise. In fact, the colds and flu experienced by the exercising women lasted only half as long. Antibody level significantly increases in one who exercises regularly, so that they can more easily fight an infection.

Attitude of mind is an important factor in keeping healthy. Nothing tends to promote health more than does a spirit of cheerfulness and contentment. Such is the advice of Solomon in Prov. 17:22. While grief, anxiety, discontent and remorse all tend to break down the life forces, courage, hope, trust and love tend to promote health (Ministry of Healing page 241)

Common colds and the flu are the most frequent acute illnesses in the U.S. They account for 30% of absenteeism from school and 40% of time lost from work.

With the colder months approaching, it is important that we keep our resistance high and allow our immune system to work at an optimal level of performance. This would include:

  • having regular exercise
  • enjoying plenty of rest
  • learning to relax and not setting unrealistic goals that create unnecessary stress
  • avoiding a high intake of between meal high-sugar snacks
  • drinking lots of fluids, especially water
  • eating a well-balanced diet
  • keeping a positive attitude of mind

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