The role of the immune system is to prevent or limit infection caused by a pathogen. The immune system defends the body from foreign, invading organisms, promoting protective immunity while maintaining tolerance to self.
The immune system is divided into
- Innate immunity
- Adaptive immunity
The first defense which a pathogen comes across is innate immunity, which is a combination of physical and biochemical barriers with a non-specific, leukocyte-mediated cellular response to defend against pathogens.
If the pathogen escapes innate immunity a more complex, adaptive, antigen-specific response is triggered, mediated by T and B lymphocytes, which produces antibodies to kill the pathogen.
There are several factors which influence the immune system and its competence. One of the most important factors is food and nutrition. If the immune system is compromised a person’s natural defense is reduced and leads to infections.
If you are falling sick often it may be because your diet is deficient in certain nutrients which are required for the proper functioning of your immune system. Some micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are essential for the proper functioning of the immune system.
Vitamins needed for the immune system
Several vitamins are needed for immune system especially
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Folic acid
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin which has an effect on a host immune system and is the most potent physiological antioxidant. It protects us against free radicals produced when pathogens are destroyed by immune cells. Vitamin C is involved in the production of leukocytes which are involved in the immune system. It has the capacity to increase serum antibodies.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and is also known as retinol. Vitamin A has been shown to have a therapeutic effect in the treatment of various infectious diseases. Vitamin A is also known as an anti-inflammation vitamin as it plays a vital role in improving immune function. Vitamin A demonstrates both promoting and regulatory roles in the innate immune system and adaptive immunity. It provides enhanced protection against multiple infectious diseases.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and is primarily involved with calcium absorption and utilization in the body. Vitamin D plays an important role in the modulation of the innate and adaptive immune responses. Vitamin D deficiency is seen in autoimmune disease and supplementing with vitamin D shows beneficial effects.
Tocopherols are the major group of compounds with vitamin E biological activity. They are fat-soluble and are potent antioxidants. Vitamin E because of its antioxidant property protects the integrity of cell membranes from damage caused by free radicals. Supplementation with vitamins having an antioxidant activity such as vitamin E has been associated with an enhancement of immune function.
Folic acid is a water-soluble B vitamin. Folic acid helps maintain innate immunity.
In situations where there is a deficiency of these vitamins, the immune system will be compromised. Make sure your diet supplies these micronutrients in adequate quantities. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet as part of a balanced diet.