How To Support Your Immune System

by Richard Santucci, RD, CDE, CPT

Last Updated: March 11, 2021

The immune system is definitely a popular topic, considering we have spent the past year fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Our immune system does many things, but most importantly, it fights off illness and foreign invaders. We can support our immune system in various ways, including consuming foods high in nutrients that play significant roles in our immune health. Let’s discuss this topic further in more depth.

Why we should focus on supporting our immune system.
Pathogens, including viruses and bacteria, are always circulating in the environment and are present throughout our system. Living a fast-paced, stressful lifestyle where health is not our main priority can lead to a weakened immune system. Remember, just because one is exposed to a pathogen does not mean we will feel sick. How well we take care of ourselves and how strong our immune system is at the time will determine whether that pathogen gets the better of us or not. The more we all focus individually on our health and immune systems, the higher chance we will have collectively of keeping everyone healthy and safe. Here are some other causes that can lead to a weakened immune system:
  • Excessive stress
  • Inadequate sleep/rest
  • Excess alcohol intake
  • Excess sugar intake
  • Smoking
  • Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
  • Not eating enough calories- including protein, carbs, and fat
  • Over-exercising
  • Inadequate nutrients, especially Vitamins A, C, D, the minerals Iron, Zinc and the Omega Fatty Acids

What does our immune system need?
First of all, for any system in our body to function optimally, taking care of ourselves is essential. Prioritizing eating well, drinking adequate fluids, managing stress, sleeping 7-8 hours, and being physically active will support a healthy immune system. When any one of these components in our lifestyle drop, it will decrease our immune function from performing at even a baseline level. Getting adequate exercise every day has been shown to enhance white blood cell function, increase circulation of white blood cells and antibodies and even help flush bacteria out of the lungs.1 Since excess stress can weaken our immunity, managing and relieving stress is key. Meditation is a growing technique people are using to destress and sleep better, which helps keep the immune system strong. Besides meditation, simply making time weekly to do something you love and having time for yourself can help relieve stress.

Foods to support your immune function.
There are certain nutrients that the immune system relies on to carry out its major functions. Vitamin C, also known as an antioxidant, often comes to mind, but the Omega Fatty Acids, Vitamins A and D, and the minerals Zinc and Iron are also essential for peak immune system function. Ensuring we get high-quality forms of all the essential nutrients our immune system requires is a great way to keep our immune system strong. Here are some examples:
  • Fresh bell peppers, strawberries, and citrus fruits like oranges -
    • High in Vitamin C, which helps reduce inflammation in the body and can also support phagocytosis - the process by which our cells literally eat harmful pathogens
  • Fatty fish like salmon and shitake mushrooms -
    • High in Vitamin D, which has been shown to help activate immune cells like White Blood Cells and T cells
  • Orange vegetables like butternut squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes -
    • High in Vitamin A, which helps keep protective mucous membrane barriers strong
  • Oysters, red meat, baked beans, and pumpkin seeds
    • High in Zinc which helps in the development of many immune cells like neutrophils and T & B cells
  • Beef, lentils, and spinach
    • High in Iron which helps supply oxygen to cells in the body, including cells of the immune system
  • Bone broths
    • Many ancient forms of medicine used bone broths to boost immunity by extracting nutrients from the marrow of animals
  • Grass-fed meat and dairy as well as fatty fish and hemp seeds
    • Excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids- which can increase the number of T-Cells in your system, a cell that also helps fight pathogens

Remember, prioritizing your health is what you do daily. If you nourish your body appropriately, it will function at its best. Viral and bacterial illnesses peak around college finals, the start of school in the fall, and the Holidays. These are very stressful times, so managing stress and supporting your immune system during these times is key. When the weather fluctuates widely or drops too low or too high for extended periods of time, this puts added stress on our bodies. Stay warm in the winter, keep cool in the summer and follow these immune-supporting tips as part of a healthy routine to keep your immune system strong and ready for action. Remember, don’t just sit there, be healthy!

Reference: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.


Richard Santucci, RD, CDE, CPT

Richard Santucci, RD, CDE, CPT

Richard Santucci has spent his whole life dedicated to health. After wrestling, boxing, & MMA, drained from overtraining, Richard spent the next 12 years creating a more plant-based diet program to rebuild his health. Richard is ready to help you live a healthier life with more energy and vitality and loves to help you plan meals for the family. In his free time, Richard enjoys playing music, disc golfing, gardening, and exploring local parks. His mission is to help people feel and perform better to enjoy a fun, fulfilling and productive life while respecting and caring for the planet.