What Foods Boost My Immune System?

What Foods Boost My Immune System?

nutrients for immune function series

I love to attend online trainings and I found one recently 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? You can listen to it here (click “View this webinar” under the Meeting Materials heading).

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 and have consolidated it for you using easy to-understand terms.

I think this is a very important part of my role as the Cancer Survivors Nutrition Voice of Reason. I want cancer patients and survivors to have this information. But sometimes, the level at which it is presented may make it indigestible for you. That’s where I come in. My Cancer Bites blog and all of my Thriving After Cancer trainings and programs are designed to support cancer patients and survivors by providing them with trustworthy, easy-to-understand, actionable information.

The Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role? training talked about the following nutrients:

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

I plan to cover each of these nutrients in greater detail over my next several blog posts. Today, 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 because I think our immune systems are a really important defense against cancer.

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!). 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 only 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. You can find it here.

Your Immune System and 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 a couple of exceptions) are your own body’s cells, but with a defect. The exceptions are H. pylori bacteria, which are thought to be responsible for some stomach cancers and human papilloma virus (HPV), which is responsible for cervical cancer.

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 very rapidly and form into tumors. If this goes unchecked, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

Stay tuned for my next blog where we will dig into the importance of vitamin E and the immune system for cancer survivors who want to thrive after cancer. If you aren’t already participating, I would encourage you to sign up to be part of the our community… and I will email you a notification when the next blog is live on my website!

Until then, focus on eating a healthy plant-based diet.

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