Septemberrrrrrr. The R is in the month again. The month in which the jars of vitamin C and cod liver oil were put back on the table at dinner at my parents’ house. My mom knew what she was doing: with fall just around the corner, it was time to boost our immune system so it would keep us healthy all winter long. Except for a healthy snot nose now and then.
More than ever, attention is being paid to our immune system. Rightly so. Let me explain why antioxidants in your diet play such an important role in keeping your immune system healthy. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your own body and health! And certainly now.
Antioxidants in food play a vital role in keeping your immune system healthy
No one says, “Doctor, my immune system is so bad”
Do you know how your immune system actually works? Not many people know this. No one comes to the GP with the complaint: “Doctor, my immune system is really bothering me”. Let me explain how it works so you know why antioxidants in your diet are so important.
Your immune system springs into action when faced with a potential threat, such as a splinter in your finger or a virus infection, through an inflammatory response. That warm, red spot on your finger where that nasty splinter has been hidden for several days; that’s inflammation. Something similar happens IN your body when the threat is there.
Your body tries to get the culprit out of your body through an inflammatory response.
What happens with inflammation?
During an inflammation, certain white blood cells release inflammatory substances that the pathogen, such as a splinter, a bacterium or virus, must make harmless. This often damages the surrounding tissue.
Other immune cells then provide other substances, including growth factors, which ensure the repair of the destroyed tissue and the production of new cells.
So first make the intruder harmless, then repair the damage. So far, so good.
Such an inflammatory response must be short-lived
Such an inflammatory response must be short-lived, because the permanent presence of inflammatory cells quickly irritates the surrounding tissue. This makes it harmful instead of healing: then such an inflammatory reaction overshoots its target. As if the fire brigade sprays your entire house from top to bottom for 24 hours in the event of a small indoor fire.
Well, beware: when temporary inflammatory reactions last too long or become chronic, the immune system becomes disrupted and weakened.
Chronic inflammation keeps the immune system constantly active, which eventually weakens it and stops functioning properly
Are you walking around unnoticed with a chronic inflammation?
Chronic inflammation is also known as hidden or silent inflammation . They lie dormant in our body, as it were, unseen. Like smoldering a cigarette in a trash can. You shouldn’t notice it at first, except that you might be a little extra tired.
But if the smoldering cigarette in that bin meets a tissue paper, it can start a small (or large) fire. These are the chronic diseases that three in five people worldwide suffer from: think of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer’s, stroke and much more.
Chronic, hidden inflammation also plays a role in obesity, rheumatism, fibromyalgia, skin complaints, stiff joints, unexplained pain complaints and neurological complaints such as Parkinson’s and many more diseases and complaints. In all cases, this means that the immune system no longer functions optimally.
Many people walk around with illnesses or complaints that are caused by a chronic inflammation in the body. This means that their immune system is constantly weakened.
Major causes of chronic inflammation
If you have a splinter in your finger, you often know where you got it. But where do all those chronic inflammations in the body come from? Three out of five people apparently suffer from this. That is quite something!
- Nutrient deficiency; as a result, the body cannot adequately defend itself against silent inflammation.
- Food that causes the blood glucose level to rise quickly; think of all sweets, fast carbohydrates, soft drinks, starch, milk sugars, grains and alcohol.
- Anything that can cause a leaky gut; such as processed food, food that has been sprayed with pesticides, food with allergens such as gluten, food intolerances, etc.
- Eating all day long; all food, no matter how healthy, triggers a small inflammatory response in your body.
- being overweight; fat is active tissue that produces, among other things, inflammatory proteins that cause inflammatory reactions.
It’s a nasty vicious circle; fat cells cause chronic inflammation, and chronic inflammation maintains obesity.
- Too little (or too much) exercise; as crazy as it may sound, but both can cause chronic inflammation.
- toxic substances; toxic substances in our home (including household products, cosmetics and personal care products) can also be the cause of chronic inflammation.
- Chronic stress; the stress hormone cortisol promotes inflammation when too much is produced.
Other causes include sleep deprivation, smoking, silicone breast implants, radiation, poor dental health and certain medications, including antacids.
Chronic inflammation requires chronically healthier living and eating
Step by step support your immune system
If you struggle with the above diseases or ailments, you can assume that your immune system is not functioning optimally. If you want to be well protected against any germs this autumn and winter, make sure you support your immune system extra. How?
First, by eliminating the possible causes of your chronic inflammation. Go through the list above and see where you can change something. Do it in small steps. Pick out what you think won’t take that much effort. For example, getting more hours of sleep? Are you going to use natural cosmetics? How often do you walk half an hour? Take action and move on from there.
Second, take a critical look at your diet and make sure to get more antioxidants.
If you are ready to adjust your diet; put more antioxidants on your menu!
Fight inflammation with antioxidants
Antioxidants are nutrients known for protecting us from excess free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that cause damage to tissues and cells, ultimately leading to chronic inflammation.
Antioxidants protect you against chronic inflammation, that makes your immune system very happy!
Fortunately, there are plenty of antioxidants in delicious foods. Below you will find my favorite top 7. Choose the unsprayed, organic variant as much as possible. The protective substances we are looking for are mainly found in food that has not been sprayed.
All fresh vegetables are a fantastic source of antioxidants, especially green and dark colored ones. Every color has its own plant substances, also called phytonutrients, that protect you. Aim for 500 grams of vegetables per day, so spread it out throughout the day. Vegetables for breakfast are therefore also recommended.
All types of fruit contain antioxidants, but the toppers are the forest fruits, so all the small red fruit. But also think of citrus fruits, avocados, raw figs, pineapple and mango and don’t forget our local apples and pears. Aim for about 200 grams per day.
Wild blueberries and plums are the best when it comes to antioxidants
3. Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are also real champions when it comes to antioxidants. Use them extensively in your kitchen. Both fresh and dried are fine. Ginger , turmeric and the Provencal herbs in particular are powerful antioxidants. Be generous with it!
Did you know that thirty grams of broccoli sprouts contain as many antioxidants as 600 grams of broccoli!? They are also full of minerals, vitamins and enzymes. Fortunately, sprouts are readily available these days, but they are also easy to grow yourself.
5. Nuts, kernels and seeds
Unroasted, unprocessed nuts are not only delicious but also good suppliers of antioxidants. When it comes to nuts, think of walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews and Brazil nuts. Also fine are sunflower and pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and hemp seeds. Soak them for several hours or toast them lightly in a skillet before using. This breaks down the phytic acid, which can hinder the absorption of vitamins and minerals in your intestines. You do not need to soak or roast hemp seed.
Hemp seed is a valuable superfood with a high dose of antioxidants
6. Raw cocoa
As far as I’m concerned, raw cocoa belongs in the list of essential foods. I wouldn’t want to miss it. Raw cocoa is a powerful antioxidant and source of the important mineral magnesium. Make your own delicious cocoa treats with raw cocoa!
Finally, don’t forget to drink plenty during the day. By this I mainly mean filtered water, herbal tea, green tea or a homemade vegetable smoothie. Limit coffee, alcohol and cut down on all soft drinks, ready-to-drink juices and smoothies from the supermarket. I promise you, if you just change this, you can feel like a completely different person within a week!
If you take good care of your immune system, it will take good care of you!