T Cells: Immunity Ninjas


salmonAs the flu virus reaches epidemic levels this month, you may be wondering what you can do to give your immune system a little boost. One very important component of a healthy immune system are T cells, a type of white blood cell essential for keeping your body healthy. Think of these guys as little ninjas running around in your body, fighting off invading bacteria, viruses, and infection.

It is important to do everything you can to ensure your T cells are ready for battle. As with any army, strength comes in numbers. A recent review featured in Harvard Health Publications outlined the most current research regarding the effects of both diet and lifestyle on the production and function of our T cells. Listed below are a few ways to help fuel your fighters this flu season.

  1. Consume Foods High in Zinc:  Zinc is very important in both the milkproduction and development of white blood cells and helps T cells fight more aggressively. Unfortunately, zinc is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in America. Even a mild deficiency can increase your risk of an infection and leave you more susceptible to the flu. Getting plenty of zinc in your diet is important! Some of the many foods that contain zinc are lean meats, seafood, poultry, milk, beans and nuts. Additionally, many cereals are now fortified with zinc.
  2. Vitamin E is Key: This vitamin is crucial in improving T cell function. It works as a powerful antioxidant that can weaken invading bacteria or viruses, making it easier for your body to fight them off. Some foods rich in vitamin E are sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils, peanut butter and spinach.
  3. MushroomsEat Mushrooms: Studies conducted by the American Cancer Society have shown many different types of mushrooms, specifically shiitake, maitake, and reishi can increase the production and overall activity of our T cells. You can incorporate mushrooms into an omelet at breakfast, in all sorts of salads, or add it as an extra topping on pizza.
  4. Keep Stress Levels Low– Learning how to cope with stress is tough, but research has linked elevated stress levels to a poor immune system and low T cell counts. Incorporating relaxing activates such as meditation and yoga have been shown to lower stress levels and increase T cell counts.
  5. Exercise to Fight Faster: Exercise has been shown to increase the number of T cells in the body and may also allow them to travel at a faster rate. Research has shown that when our fighter cells are flowing rapidly, in large numbers, they may be able to detect bacteria, infection, or viral invaders earlier.

The list above contains just a few ideas to keep your T cells fighting fast and furiously. There are many ways to build a strong immune system, but a well- balanced diet and healthy lifestyle, including the above-mentioned tips, are essential in keeping you healthy every day.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Goodman, FBM

Ashley Russo is a first year graduate student at Syracuse University working on a master’s degree in nutrition science and dietetics. She plans to become a registered dietitian specializing in oncology nutrition.

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