Immune strengthening nutrients
By Sarah Murphy and Beth Jones – Studying BHSc (Naturopathy)
When presented with the beginnings of an infection, many different cells, including immune cells, secrete pro-inflammatory cytokines to assist the body’s innate immune cells in fighting off the pathogens. If the body over-reacts in a “cytokine storm”, increased inflammation can occur and the body will be unable to fight the virus. On the other hand, if the immune system is suppressed, it may not be able to create an efficient response to ward off infection. Turmeric and Vitamin C can be incredibly helpful for increasing immunity. We explore these nutrients in detail and how you can increase your consumption:
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric and its group of compounds, curcuminoids, have long been studied for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antiplatelet properties. Turmeric is a potent antioxidant and works by enhancing the production of antioxidant enzymes and neutralising free radicals in the body. Its anti-inflammatory properties are crucial in immune modulation as inflammatory cells create an abundance of reactive oxygen species at the site of inflammation leading to oxidative stress; this then triggers an immune response and lowers resistance to viruses and infections. Chronic stress and elevated cortisol have been found to be associated with suppressed immune response and vulnerability to disease, in these cases, turmeric has been found to lower cortisol levels, improve mood and improve the immune system.
Turmeric’s antiviral effects vary in their mechanisms ranging from inhibiting virus replication, rejecting viral entry into cells, limiting encapsulation of the virus into the body, and modulating inflammatory signalling pathways; all of which are vital in reducing the risk of disease.
Turmeric and its recommended dosages can be consumed in foods (500-8000mg/day), capsule/tablet form (4-10g/day), liquid tinctures (35-100ml/week), or in teas, all dosages are based solely on the specific individual’s health picture. Turmeric is also a potent source of vitamin C, which has incredible immune-boosting properties.
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid and is an essential water-soluble vitamin that has a broad range of uses in the body, which can directly and indirectly be beneficial for immune health. Its functions include antioxidant, connective tissue maintenance, brain and nerve function, antihistamine, anticancer and immune-stimulant. It is absorbed by the epithelial cells of the small intestine and is diffused into the body’s cells through the blood. There is evidence that the immune system is sensitive to circulating levels of vitamin C within the blood.
Vitamin C directly affects immune function through modulation of T-cell gene expression. This affects a range of genes, some of which directly affect immune function. It also stimulates the production of interferons, which is a protein that directly protects the cells against viral attack and stimulates synthesis of antibodies of select immunoglobulins. It enhances the activity of the natural killer cells and also B and T cell activity, which fight against infection and invading pathogens. Many infections and inflammatory diseases cause a reduction in the ascorbate levels within neutrophils and leucocytes (white blood cells), which in turn lowers our immunity. Vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections.
A few different forms Vitamin C include:
- Ascorbic acid – the major dietary form of Vitamin C.
- Mineral ascorbates (non-acid) such as calcium or sodium ascorbate – buffered forms which can be less irritating to the stomach than ascorbic acid.
- Ascrobyl lamitate – a fat soluble form of Vitamin C formed from a chemical reaction (esterification) of palmitic acid, and is mostly used in topical creams due to its fat content.
Some food sources which are high in Vitamin C include broccoli, brussels sprouts, citrus fruits, capsicum, pineapple, potatoes, strawberries and tomatoes, and sweet potato. Vitamin C is best absorbed in small doses at regular intervals, as this reduces the risk of oversaturation causing lower absorption in individual large doses.