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The food and drink that really can boost your immune system

Whether it is immune-boosting smoothies or bacteria-laden yogurts, there is a whole world of products that claim to improve your immune system – but these are the ones that actually work



Health



31 January 2023

Artichokes are rich in fibre that feeds beneficial bacteria

Javarman/shutterstock

WALK down any supermarket aisle and you will see rows of food and drink that claim to help your immune system. We are told that cinnamon is good at battling inflammation and fighting off illness, for instance. The list of supposedly “immune boosting” foods also often includes berries, mushrooms, green tea, seeds, spinach, broccoli, probiotic yogurt and foods high in specific vitamins.

The problem is that when you dig deeper, you see that most of these bold claims aren’t derived from clinical trials or solid science. More often than not, they are based on small lab experiments where chemical extracts of the plants, nuts or herbs are found to alter the potency of immune cells, and these findings rarely translate to anything useful.

So, what do we really need to eat to support a healthy immune response? Only fairly recently have we discovered that the biggest immune organ is our gut. The immune system is in regular contact with the trillions of microbes living in the gut, which send signals to dial immune activities up or down.


The good news is that the delicate balance of this system can be modified through diet. Take chronic low-grade inflammation, which can be thought of as the result of an overstimulated immune system and increases the risk of heart disease and metabolic problems such as obesity. The complex interactions between the gut lining, short chain fatty acids produced by the fermentation of dietary fibres by gut microbes, and pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines all …

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