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Inflammation & Immunity: Using Diet to Boost Your Immune System

May 6, 2020 | All, Inflammation & Autoimmune Disease

The novel coronavirus does not discriminate, and having a strong immune system provides the foundation for a robust recovery in the event we do get sick. A number of Americans struggle with chronic inflammation, and that in and of itself can wreak havoc on our immune systems. However, inflammation is something that we can control. Diet and lifestyle both contribute to the reduction of systemic inflammation. If you are managing chronic inflammation, what can you do to boost your body’s defense mechanisms while remaining in quarantine? Below are several changes you can make now to start reducing inflammation and boosting your immune system.


  1. Eat whole foods. This dietary pattern will reduce your consumption of processed foods and increase vitamins and minerals to prevent deficiencies. Shop the perimeter of your grocery store to find the best whole, fresh foods. Frozen fruits and vegetables are also included in this category.
  2. Eat the rainbow. The more colors you eat, the more antioxidants you consume. Antioxidants stop free radicals from damaging your cells and initiating the inflammatory response. Aim for each color of the rainbow every day.
  3. Include fatty fish in your diet. Salmon, sardines, mackerel, oysters, and anchovies are all rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Eating these from cans is totally acceptable. Look for wild fish and sustainably caught options.
  4. Eat high fiber foods. Fiber is wonderful for managing blood sugar and for gut health. Women should aim for 21-25 grams and men should consume 30-38 grams per day. High fiber foods include fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans.
  5. Micronutrients to consider:
    1. Zinc: not only does zinc reduce inflammation but it also supports your immune system. The best sources include shellfish, nuts and seeds, whole grains, mushrooms, lean beef and poultry and beans.
    2. Magnesium: foods high in fiber are also good sources of magnesium. These include legumes, whole grains, vegetables like broccoli and leafy greens, almonds and chocolate.
    3. Vitamin C and E: these are powerful antioxidants and important for proper immune function. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, vitamin E in nuts, seeds, and nut/seed oils
    4. Vitamin D: this vitamin helps to protect against infections. The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight, but it’s also found in fatty fish, beef liver and egg yolks.

Lifestyle changes can also help boost your immune system and reduce inflammation. Getting quality sleep every night may help reduce inflammation and thus boost your immune system. Managing stress and practicing mindfulness can also help reduce inflammatory markers in your body. Exercise has also been shown to improve inflammation and also may reduce body fat which aids in reducing systemic inflammation in the body.

Chronic inflammation does not have to have a permanent place in your life. Modifiable factors such as diet and lifestyle may help you reduce inflammation, improve health and boost your immune system. 

(1) Estadella, D., da Penha Oller do Nascimento, C. M., Oyama, L. M., Ribeiro, E. B., Dâmaso, A. R., & de Piano, A. (2013). Lipotoxicity: effects of dietary saturated and transfatty acids. Mediators of inflammation, 2013, 137579.
(2) Furman, D., Campisi, J., Verdin, E., Carrera-Bastos, P., Targ, S., Franceschi, C., Ferrucci, L., Gilroy, D. W., Fasano, A., Miller, G. W., Miller, A. H., Mantovani, A., Weyand, C. M., Barzilai, N., Goronzy, J. J., Rando, T. A., Effros, R. B., Lucia, A., Kleinstreuer, N., & Slavich, G. M. (2019). Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Nature medicine, 25(12), 1822–1832.
(3) Gammoh, N. Z., & Rink, L. (2017). Zinc in Infection and Inflammation. Nutrients, 9(6), 624.
(4) Maggini, S., Maldonado, P., Cardim, P., Fernandez Newball, C., & Sota Latino, E.R. (2017). Vitamins C, D and zinc: Synergistic roles in immune function and infections. Vitamins & Minerals, 6(3), 167.
(5) Malarkey, W. B., Jarjoura, D., & Klatt, M. (2013). Workplace based mindfulness practice and inflammation: a randomized trial. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 27(1), 145–154.
(6) Simpson, N. & Dinges. (2007). Sleep and inflammation. Nutrition Reviews, 65(3), S244-S252.

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