The New Times (Kigali)

12 January 2013

Rwanda: Boosting Your Immune System

opinion

Body immunity is important for someone to overcome illness and infections. The stronger the immunity of an individual, the stronger is the resistance to some infections. Therefore, people need to feed well in order to improve on their immunity.

There are a number of vitamins, minerals, plant components and herbs that are beneficial to the immune system. Knowing the specific foods that boost the immune system can be complicated because certain vitamins work best when taken with other vitamins.

For instance, vitamin C probably the most commonly recommended vitamin for infection resistance works best when taken with calcium and magnesium. Calcium is an important mineral component because it helps body cells absorb Vitamin C and other nutrients more efficiently.

Magnesium plays the same role and is also essential for proper function of the muscles and nerves. Therefore, an effective diet to boost the immune system must include foods that contain Vitamin C, magnesium and calcium, or a combination of foods that contain all these important nutrients.

Calcium and magnesium are necessary for the proper absorption of Vitamin C and work best when taken with iron, manganese, and Vitamin D. The body cannot absorb calcium, if Vitamin D is not present and this is why milk is sometimes fortified with Vitamin D.

In addition, lack of Vitamin A in the diet can lead to frequent infections and Vitamin A works best when taken with zinc, calcium, B-complex, and vitamins C, D and E.

Some people use multi-vitamins to improve on the immunity but not all multi-vitamins are the same. Some do not contain calcium or iron. Some are properly balanced for men but not for women.

Even if one takes a good daily multi-vitamin, it is still important to eat a healthy diet and there are some interesting foods that boost the immune system. Edible mushrooms for example are a valuable source of biologically active compounds called beta glucans and can benefit a diet to boost the immune system. Beta glucans stimulate the immune system, providing protection from colds, influenza and infections as well as AIDS by inhibiting viral replication. Also beta glucans are found in numerous plant foods including oats, barley and yeast.

Some rare food like crab, lobster, oysters, salmon and tuna are all foods that boost the immune system as they are good sources of calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron and vitamins A, C, D, E and B complex.

Salmon not only contains all of the vitamins and minerals necessary to maintain a healthy immune system, but is also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to be beneficial in preventing heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Omega-3 supplementation can improve overall mental function and reduce symptoms of depression.

It is important to understand that there is no specific diet to boost the immune system. But eating a well balanced diet will improve immune system function.

There are foods that boost the immune system because of the vitamins and minerals but of utmost importance is overall good nutrition. The best protection is obtained by eating the right foods in the right combination whenever possible, supplementing with a daily multi-vitamin and possibly a natural immune system enhancer during cold and flu season or whenever you feel you are at risk for infection.

Yogurt can be delicious when layered with fruit in a parfait or as a cooling side for a dish of spicy food. Besides, it packs a healthy dose of good bacteria that can protect the body against harmful bacteria and infections

The writer is a doctor at the Rwanda Military Hospital - Kanombe

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