Natural antioxidants and immune boosters can help prevent illness and keep your body healthy. Adequately feeding your immune system boosts its disease-fighting power. Antioxidants protect cells from oxidative damage by free radicals, the byproducts of metabolism and environmental factors. They also stimulate the production of white blood cells, the body’s defense mechanism. There are many natural antioxidants and immune boosters available in the form of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other substances in the foods we eat.
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Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant responsible for the increased production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies. It increases the body’s levels of interferon, an antibody that coats the cell surface, preventing viral or bacterial attack. Vitamin C protects against cancer by inhibiting the production of cancer-causing nitrosamines. It reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by raising levels of HDL, or good, cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. Choose citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries and green leafy vegetables to boost your immunity.
Vitamin E signals the release of natural killer cells, which are cells that seek and destroy foreign particles such as germs and toxins. It also stimulates the production of B cells, or immune cells that manufacture antibodies. Vitamin E may reverse immunity decline related to the natural aging process. Eating a diet rich in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, whole grains, leafy greens and fortified breakfast cereals will help you meet your daily vitamin E needs.
Beta carotene is converted to vitamin A only when the body needs it. This process allows the remaining carotenoids to act as antioxidants, fighting free radicals throughout the body. Beta carotene helps strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by interfering with the oxidation of fat and cholesterol in the bloodstream. Beta carotene has a preventive effect against atherosclerosis, stroke, cancer and heart attack. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apricots, sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peaches, spinach, kale, pumpkin and mango are rich in beta carotene. Reach for watermelon and tomatoes as sources of lycopene, a potent antioxidant.
Bioflavonoids are polynutrients found in legumes, soybeans, tea, grapes, red wine and soy products. In the body, they are converted to plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens, which help inhibit the growth of hormone-dependent cancers. They also aid the immune system by protecting the body’s cells against environmental pollutants. Bioflavonoids lower total cholesterol levels and reduce the cholesterol’s ability to form plaques in arteries.
Selenium, an important mineral, increases the effectiveness of vitamin E. It also works by increasing natural killer cells and mobilizing cancer-fighting cells. It is a powerful anti-cancer agent, as it helps prevent damage caused by radiation and chemical carcinogens. Selenium boosts the immune system’s reaction to infections, prevents blood clots and may even be beneficial in reducing arthritic pain. To meet your daily selenium needs, consume tuna, lobster, shrimp, snapper, whole grains, eggs, chicken, cheese, garlic, nuts, seeds and vegetables.
A mineral and immune booster, zinc increases white blood cell and killer cell production. This enhances the immune system’s ability to fight infection more aggressively and release antibodies. Zinc can decrease the incidence and severity of infections, inhibit the loss of vision as a result of macular degeneration, and help prevent prostate enlargement and cancer. Foods rich in zinc include oysters, crabs, beef, turkey, beans and fortified cereals.