What Foods Boost My Immune System?

What Foods Boost My Immune System?


I love to attend online trainings and I found one  that is right up my alley when it comes to boosting my immune system and thriving after cancer. The training is called Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role?

This was hosted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the moderator and presenters are all researchers in the field of nutrition and immune function. The presentation is geared towards health professionals, so you may have some challenges following it if you don’t have a science background.

If this is the case for you, don’t worry! I’ve taken the presentation and put it through my science translator apparatus (a.k.a. my brian) and have summarized it for you using easy to-understand terms.

I think this is a very important part of my role as a registered dietitian specializing in cancer risk reduction. I want you to have this information, but sometimes, the level at which it is presented may make it indigestible for you. If you find this information helpful, be sure to check out my Cancer Risk Reduction Guide which includes the information on immune support as well as information on anti-inflammatory diet and including nutraceuticals – all three are keys to reducing your cancer risk.  This is the main take-away from the webinar:

What Nutrients Support The Immune System?

  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B6
  • Fish oil
  • Prebiotics
  • Mushrooms
  • Soy

I plan to cover each of these nutrients in greater detail over my next several Cancer Bites blog posts. But before that, I want to start with a re-cap of the immune system and what it is. This is important foundational piece that should be understood first. The way I see it, there are 3 Keys To Cancer Risk Reduction which are:

  1. Support the immune system
  2. Reduce chronic inflammation
  3. Choose foods that act against cancer directly

What is the Immune System?

The immune system is comprised of two parts – the innate and the acquired. The innate immune system is what we are born with and it includes our skin and mucus membranes, which help protect us from the outside world. Our innate immune system also includes certain cellular soldiers such as neutrophils, macrophages, eosinophils , dendritic cells and the natural killer cells (these are my favourite—they have such a great name!). If you want more detail, here is a good video that explains the innate immune system.

The other part of our immune system—the acquired immune system—designs a specific attacker for each bacteria, virus or other pathogen that invades our body. This is a great explanation of the acquired immune system. Cells of the acquired immune system include the T cells (made in the Thymus) and B cells (made in the Bone marrow).

Once you are exposed to a virus like the flu virus or rhino virus (cold virus) your acquired immune system creates an antigen against that specific invader. And you will have this antigen in your body for the rest of your life. You might ask “Why do I get the flu more than once then?” This is because there are different viruses that cause the flu. You will get a specific virus only once. The bad news is, you have to suffer through the effects of the flu to acquire this protection.

If you want to learn more on the immune system, there is another video I recommend you watch called The Immune System Explained.

Can My Immune System Protect me from Cancer?

Your immune system doesn’t just protect you against the flu and colds. There are parts of the immune system that also protect you from cancer. Unlike invading bacteria and viruses though, cancer cells (with some exceptions like H. pylori bacteria, which are thought to be responsible for some stomach cancers and human papilloma virus (HPV), which is responsible for cervical cancer) are your own body’s cells, but with a defect.

Have you ever heard that we all have cancer cells in our body but only some of us develop cancer? This is thought to be because the immune system keeps rogue cancer cells under control so that their numbers never get large enough to actually form a mass. However, when our immune system is overwhelmed, cancer cells can grow more rapidly and form into tumors. If this goes unchecked, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

Now, that you’ve had your primer on the immune system, click here to read about the fist nutrient in the series;  vitamin E and the immune system

If you would like to have a food guide that is focused on food and lifestyle choices to reduce cancer risk – including supporting your immune system, then check out my Cancer Risk Reduction Guide. Also, stay up to date with the latest on cancer nutrition by joining my email list.