3 Immunity Super Foods With Hidden Benefits

Today, more than ever, it’s important to keep your immune system in tip-top shape. One of the best ways to maintain your overall health — and your immunity — is to maintain a nutritious diet.

While many foods possess the ability to boost your immune system health, here are 3 of the best ones with scientific backing for their immune benefits:


Garlic — The Unsung Immune-Boosting Food

Garlic is one of the most commonly used seasonings for cooking. But in addition to its culinary use, garlic has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine for its protective and curative properties. In the middle ages, people even used garlic to keep the plague at bay.

This vegetable, known as Allium sativum, is known for its production of compounds with interesting biological and pharmacological properties. These organosulfur compounds — particularly one called allicin — are extracted and isolated from garlic exhibit a broad variety of beneficial effects.


Garlic and the Immune System

The bioactive components in garlic boost the functioning of the immune system by activating certain immune cells— lymphocytes, macrophages, natural killer (NK) cells, and others. They do this by a variety of mechanisms. This includes modulating the secretion of cytokines, chemicals that regulate both the innate and adaptive immune system.

Plus, they are important in the production of immune antibodies, and active immune cells such as phagocytes and macrophages.


Garlic and Viruses

The scientific literature has shown that garlic demonstrates potent effects against certain viruses.

For instance, a Chinese study tested daily use of a garlic supplement on a group of 146 people. Half the group received the garlic supplement and half received a placebo. Strikingly, the placebo group suffered 63% more common cold infections when compared to study subjects who received the garlic supplement.

And those in the garlic-using group who did manage to catch a cold had symptoms for 1.5 days compared to 5 days in the placebo group. The doctors who conducted this study noted: “An allicin-containing supplement can prevent attack by the common cold virus.”

When you consider how many people suffer from common colds each year, you can see how this is significant.

Garlic also demonstrates anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects. Plus, it has a positive benefit on heart health, blood sugar, and abnormal cell growth.

Fortunately, garlic is an inexpensive way to promote immune health. In addition to adding as much garlic to your diet as possible, garlic extract supplements are available.

However, garlic supplement manufacturing varies widely, which influences its positive effects. So it’s important to choose a garlic supplement from a reputable company with high quality standards.


Fruits and Vegetables With Immune-Boosting Vitamin C

Vitamin C , also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin. This means that any Vitamin C unused by the body is excreted in the urine — not stored. So this nutrient must be taken regularly to prevent a shortage.

What’s more, unlike most animals (even most mammals), humans are unable to create Vitamin C internally. This means humans must gain this nutrient from their diet or by supplementation.


Foods High in Vitamin C

Many people think only of citrus fruit when they consider the best food sources for Vitamin C, but this nutrient is found in many fruits and vegetables:

Fruits highest in Vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits and juices, especially orange and grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Papaya and mango
  • Pineapple
  • Strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, and blueberries

The best vegetable sources of Vitamin C include:

  • Broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts
  • Red and green peppers
  • Spinach, cabbage, and other leafy greens
  • Tomatoes and tomato juice
  • Winter squash


Functions of Vitamin C

Vitamin C performs many functions in the body. It’s necessary for the growth and repair of body tissues, including the formation of collagen to make tendons, skin, ligaments, and even blood vessels.

It’s also important in wound healing and the repair and maintenance of bones, cartilage, and teeth.

Vitamin C acts as a powerful antioxidant. This means it protects cells and molecules from free radical damage generated during metabolism and other activity.

But that’s not all.


Vitamin C’s Role in Immunity

The Nobel Prize in Physiology went to Albert Szent-Gyorgyi in 1937 for his research on Vitamin C. This discovery launched the deluge of Vitamin C research — especially with regard to immune function.

Research shows that Vitamin C stimulates the production and function of certain white blood cells, especially neutrophils, lymphocytes, and phagocytes.

Scientists have also found that some white blood cells, including phagocytes, produce and release chemicals with antiviral activity. Phagocytes are essential to immune health because they ingest harmful foreign particles, including bacteria, viral particles, or dead or dying cells.

Some studies report that Vitamin C can enhance the pathogen-killing ability of neutrophils and stimulate the proliferation of B and T lymphocytes. Neutrophils make up from 40 to 70% of all white blood cells, and are a critical part of the innate immune system. B and T lymphocytes are a big part of the adaptive immune response. Vitamin C also has a beneficial effect on the body’s NK or natural killer cells.

Research shows that regular use of Vitamin C supplements has been found to reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of the common cold.

One study reported in Annals of Nutritional Metabolism found that in older people requiring hospitalization for pneumonia and chronic bronchitis, even a dose of just 200 mg of Vitamin C per day reduced the clinical severity of their illness.


Vitamin C in Health and Aging

A severe vitamin C deficiency is called scurvy, and is potentially fatal. Even by the late 1700’s, the British navy knew they could cure scurvy by eating citrus fruit, even though they had no knowledge of Vitamin C. While scurvy is no longer common, a certain level of Vitamin C deficiency is.

Unfortunately, aging adults tend to show lower levels of circulating Vitamin C, which can impair immune function. This is further complicated by the fact that the aging process itself leads to a decline in normal immune function.

But it’s not only older adults at risk. The government’s NHANES study found that overall, about 23% of Americans suffer from Vitamin C depletion.

In addition to immune issues, low Vitamin C levels have also been linked to many common conditions, including diabetes, pneumonia, arthritis, and many others.

The good news is that eating plenty of the foods listed above and supplementing with Vitamin C can not only improve immune function, but also support overall health and prevent many health issues


Green Tea — 4,000 Years of Healing Power

The use of tea originated in China over 4,000 years ago, and tea has played a critical role in Asian culture and medicine ever since. Today, tea is the most widely consumed beverage world-wide.

And while there are thousands of different types of tea, green tea has been particularly studied for its effect on health.

Green tea contains an active ingredient called epigallocatechin-3-gallate, called EGCG for short. Research indicates that EGCG is the primary factor creating the health benefits of green tea, and promotes health in several body systems.


Green Tea and Immune Health

When it comes to immune health, green tea and EGCG play a regulatory role in both the innate and adaptive immune systems.

Studies have repeatedly shown that EGCG plays a beneficial role in immune system T cell function. In 2011, new research at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University found that EGCG can increase the production of T cells and also play a positive role in autoimmune disease.


Green Tea and Viruses

A 2017 review of green tea catechins found that EGCG demonstrates antiviral effects against a diverse number of viruses. Green tea also acts as an anti-microbial agent.

As a natural antioxidant, EGCG can help reduce the production of free radicals and protect cells and molecules from damage. Green tea also helps reduce inflammation and shows benefits with many health issues, including heart and blood sugar concerns and several types of cancers.

In more recent years, a form of green tea called matcha has become popular. Matcha is a fine green tea powder of high quality made from the entire leaves of tea bushes. As it is the only type of tea in which leaves are ingested, it contains a much higher level of antioxidants.

Green tea extract can also be consumed as a supplement in powder, liquid, or capsule form.


Note: This article does not constitute medical advice. Consult with a health professional before taking any action.


Sources for This Article Include:

Oregon State University. Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center

Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Vitamin C.

Hampl JS, Taylor CA, Johnston CS. Vitamin C deficiency and depletion in the United States: the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988 to 1994. Am J Pub Health. 2004 May;94(5):870-5.

Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50(2):85-94. doi:10.1159/000090495

Life Extension Foundation. The Link Between Vitamin C and Optimal Immunity. https://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2015/11/the-link-between-vitamin-c-and-optimal-immunity

Arreola R, Quintero-Fabián S, López-Roa RI, et al. Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds. J Immunol Res. 2015;2015:401630. doi:10.1155/2015/401630

Guo NL, Lu DP, Woods GL, et al. Demonstration of the anti-viral activity of garlic extract against human cytomegalovirus in vitro. Chin Med J (Engl). 1993;106(2):93-96.

Wu D, Lewis ED, Pae M, Meydani SN. Nutritional Modulation of Immune Function: Analysis of Evidence, Mechanisms, and Clinical Relevance. Front Immunol. 2019;9:3160. Published 2019 Jan 15. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2018.03160

Cambridge University. https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/just-your-cup-of-tea-the-history-and-health-claims-of-the-nations-favourite-brew#:~:text=Originating%20in%20China%2C%20where%20it,the%20creator%20of%20Chinese%20medicine.

Penn Medicine. The Hidden Health Benefits of Tea. https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2019/december/health-benefits-of-tea

Pae and Wu. Food and Function. Immunomodulating effects of epigallocatechin-3-gallate from green tea: mechanisms and applications. Issue 9, 2013.

Science Daily. Mechanism discovered for health benefit of green tea, new approach to autoimmune disease. June 2011.

Xu J, Xu Z, Zheng W. A Review of the Antiviral Role of Green Tea Catechins. Molecules. 2017;22(8):1337. Published 2017 Aug 12. doi:10.3390/molecules22081337

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