Lately there has been a lot of talk about the immune system, what it is, what exactly is its function, how to strengthen it, etc. The truth is that our immune system is something that, for years, we had not paid enough attention to, but as a result of the already well-known global pandemic, we have realized how important it is to keep it strong and active.
The question is, can we do something to strengthen our immune system? We have spoken with Luisa Varela, pharmacist and Technical and R&D Director at Vitae, about what things we should or should not do to maximize our defenses.
- Let’s start with the basics, what exactly is the immune system?
Our immune system is a complex network of proteins, cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect our bodies from foreign pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungus and toxins. When germs such as bacteria or viruses invade our body, they attack it and multiply. This is known as an infection and can eventually develop into a disease. Our immune system protects us from illness by fighting germs.
- What are the basic things that we should NOT do if we want to keep our immune system strong and active?
We should eliminate toxic substances that can alter our immune system as much as possible: tobacco, alcohol, the sustained use of antibiotics and other drugs without a specific prescription, as well as the consumption of fast food, ultra -processed food or food with too many additives, sugars or saturated fats . We must also avoid situations of excessive stress, a life that is too sedentary, lack of sleep and environments with high atmospheric and noise pollution, etc. All these external agents attack our immune system and make it weaker, so it will not have the necessary strength to deal with pathogens if necessary.
- I imagine that food plays a decisive role in keeping our defenses active. What kind of foods should not be missing from our diet if we want to maximize our immune system?
Yes, a balanced diet rich in certain nutrients helps the development and maintenance of the immune system. Certain proteins, unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals, as well as the so-called immunonutrients, which are specific nutrients capable of modulating the immune system both at the intestinal and systemic levels (certain glucans, nucleotides, antioxidants, polyunsaturated fatty acids,… ) have the function reinforcing our immunity.
A diet for immune health should contain a variety of colors, including a variety of fruits, vegetables, and legumes (high in vitamins A, D, E, B6, and folic acid), minerals such as zinc, iron, and selenium, protein, good fats such as olive and sea buckthorn oil, antioxidants (carotenes, vitamin C), immunomodulatory substances ( long-chain glucans and enzymes) and prebiotics such as fiber.
- I understand that there is a key and very revolutionary ingredient that helps in the prevention and treatment of viruses, fungus and bacteria. I’m talking about yeast beta- glucans. What are they? What are its benefits? What is the difference with the other beta- glucans ?
Beta – glucans and arabinoxylans have been used for years as immunmodulators (with a prebiotic effect and high fiber content), since they act by selectively stimulating the growth and metabolic activity of the beneficial intestinal microbiota and then acting globally or systemically. They have been shown to have anti- obesity, glucose-regulating, antioxidant, and immunomodulatory effects .
Betaglucans are polysaccharides (long chains of complex sugars) that act on bad cholesterol levels, control blood sugar and stimulate the immune system from the intestine. There are betaglucans derived from cereals, fungi and yeasts, being those that come from cereals richer in fiber and with a clear prebiotic function, and those that come from yeasts and fungi are the most active at the level of the immune system. They are currently being studied as adjuvant treatments in viral processes such as Covid , in severe allergic processes and in different anticancer therapeutic arsenals to modulate inflammation by enhancing chemotherapy treatments.
- Finally, what other habits are recommended to take proper care of our immune system?
A strong immune system can be maintained – broadly speaking – with a balanced diet (a balanced and efficient daily supply of nutrients), doing gentle daily exercise and including relaxation or anti-stress practices on a regular basis. Let us value our body and dedicate the time and the most appropriate foods to it and, when necessary, complement with intake of immunemodulators in the form of supplements to strengthen and balance our immune system.