‘Prevention is better than cure’ is a common saying and it seems to be quite pertinent in the current scenario of people trying out various means to stay away from infections. One of the simple ways to protect oneself and one’s loved ones from infections is to focus on building immunity. Immunity is nothing but the ability to defend against infection and disease 1.
The next question is - how can we build immunity? There are various ways to build immunity, and here we would like to rely on scientific facts with research back up. The best way to build good immunity is by focusing on diet and physical activity.
Balanced nutrition, especially in terms of adequate protein, vitamin, mineral intake, enhances the resistance against infections 2.
If we talk specifically about proteins, they make up the framework of body defense systems, enzymes, and hormones. Proteins are made up of amino acids and 2 essential amino acids that play a key role in immunity are arginine and glutamine 2. It is very important that our diets contain sufficient protein. However, an Indian study has shown than 9 out of 10 Indians consumed a diet deficient in protein 3. Also, a report published in Times of India in 2019 revealed that 7 in 10 Indians have poor muscle health and low protein levels 4. This is indeed a matter of concern and action, and it is important that people should focus on consuming good quantity and quality protein. Some of the good sources of protein include milk and milk products, lean meats, fish, whole grains, nuts, and oilseeds.
Intake of vitamins and minerals is also associated with immunity. Several micronutrients such as Vitamin A, C, D, B6, B12, iron, copper, zinc, folic acid are known to support immunity 5. An adequate intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and dairy products can help in meeting the requirements of most of these micronutrients.
Another important aspect is overnutrition and undernutrition. Both these conditions have shown to negatively impact immunity. Overnutrition, in the form of overweight and obesity, is an alarmingly increasing trend in India with every 1 in 5 adults being overweight/obese 6. This can mainly be attributed to the shifting dietary habits of Indians towards the consumption of high fat, sugar, salt along with low intake of protein, vitamins, and minerals. This kind of diet is shown to be a potential contributor to damaging the immune system and causing infections particularly those of the respiratory tract 7. On the other hand, undernutrition, mainly due to the consumption of insufficient calories and protein is also a potential contributor to reduced immune function 1.
It is increasingly seen that our current busy lifestyle and food habits prevent us from consuming the immune-boosting foods on a daily basis, thereby leading to a deficiency. Hence, it is imperative to consume a balanced diet.
The second vital key to immunity apart from the diet is exercise. Scientific evidence clearly shows that regular physical activity is particularly beneficial for immune enhancement and reduces the risk of infection, especially Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI), in the general population 1. Incorporating at least 30-45 minutes every day to some form of physical activity like walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, playing your favorite sport and so on, to remain fit and active would go a long way in enhancing immunity.
Hence, eating healthy by choosing foods rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals along with physical activity would be a great way to boost immunity and keep away infections. Stay healthy, stay safe!