4-Eat Healthy Fats
“80% of your immune system is found in your gut,” says Yufang Lin, MD, of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, “so when it’s healthy, we tend to be able to fight off infections faster and better. When it’s not, our immune system is weaker and more susceptible to fighting off infection.”
Healthy fats are those with anti-inflammatory properties, like the ones found in olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish like salmon. These may boost your body’s immune response by lowering inflammation.
Inflammation is a natural response to stress or injury, but chronic inflammation, such as can be caused by a high-fat, highly processed diet, can suppress your immune system’s responses.
Olive oil has been scientifically linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It’s highly anti-inflammatory and may help your body fight off dangerous viruses and bacteria. Omega-3 fatty acids, like the ones found in cold water fish (like salmon) and chia seeds, have also been shown to fight inflammation and support your immune system.
In general, Dr. Lin recommends people focus on a Mediterranean style of eating. That means a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats. “This eating pattern is high in nutrients such as Vitamin C, zinc, and other antioxidants shown to help reduce inflammation and fight infection,” she explains.
Adults between 65 and 70 years old who followed a Mediterranean diet showed small increases in disease-fighting cells (such as T-cells) according to a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Physiology.
Healthy fats can help stimulate your immune system and boost your body’s response to disease or infection.
Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and natto are rich in helpful bacteria called probiotics. These are the same bacteria that live in your gut and help your digestive system work properly.
Gut health and immunity are closely interrelated. Research has suggested that a healthy gut bacteria population can help your immune system tell the difference between healthy body cells and harmful invaders.
In one study, children who drank just 2.4 ounces (70 ml) of fermented milk daily had around 20% fewer childhood infectious diseases compared with the control group who didn’t drink probiotics. If you don’t regularly eat fermented foods, a probiotic supplement may be a good idea.
In another study of people infected with rhinovirus, those who took a supplement of the bacterium Bifidobacterium animalis had a stronger immune system response and lower levels of the virus in their nasal mucus than the control group did.
A typical daily dose of probiotics is between 1 and 10 billion CFUs (colony-forming units) daily. The key is to take these probiotic supplements or foods consistently to maintain a healthy gut and support your immune system.
It’s best to eat probiotic-rich foods like yogurt or sauerkraut, but if you can’t include those in your regular diet, you should consider supplements to improve your immune response.