The immune system is responsible for protecting the body from infection. This complex body system is at work every day, recognising and protecting us from outside invaders. This includes germs such as virus, bacteria, fungi, and toxins (chemicals made by microbes). The immune system is made up of different organs, cells, and proteins that work in unison to keep us healthy and alive.
It does a remarkable job of defending the body from the microorganisms that can cause disease. At times it can be unsuccessful in its protective role and germs can invade the body successfully and cause illness.
When the diet is lacking in essential nutrients, or a person suffers chronic stress or inadequate sleep, these factors significantly impede the body’s ability to mount a protective immune response.
When there is an underactive or overactive immune system this can also cause health issues. Overactivity is related to immune disorders such as allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, and even multiple sclerosis. Underactivity is also called immunodeficiency and can increase a person’s risk of infection.
Gender influences the immune response:
Research has repeatedly demonstrated that women have a stronger immune response to infections than men do. Studies from as early as the 1940s have revealed that women have an enhanced ability to make antibodies. This difference in gender is thought to be controlled by variations in the blood levels of steroid hormones, notably estrogen and testosterone. The female hormone estrogen promotes immune responses, and the male hormone, testosterone, is immunosuppressive (1).
Some top superfoods for boosting women’s immune health
Whilst there is no single food or ingredient that we can consume to prevent diseases there are certain superfoods that have been clinically studied for their potential ability to enhance the immune system.
1. Celery: Apigenin as a compound of certain plants, including celery, which has a wide range of biological influence, including exerting anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antioxidant effects (9). Apigenin is also major part of the Mediterranean diet, a diet that has long been associated with reduced rates of numerous human diseases, including cancer. Apigenin is generally regarded as an important compound found in diets that are rich in fruit and vegetables (5).
2. Barley grass: Come from young barley plants and at this immature stage, it boasts an enhanced nutrient content. It has eight essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, and superoxide dismutase; an enzyme that can prevent damage to tissues. Barley sprouts also have saponarin which has shown to be anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Barley grass also contains polysaccharide structures that can enhance immunity by stimulating the activity of macrophages, an important immune cell (2).
Barley grass leaves have been clinically studied for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases and may have immune anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects, help improve bone recovery, alleviate atopic skin disorders and be memory enhancing and anti-ageing (3, 4).
3. Chamomile: This herb is known for its calming properties but less well known is how chamomile can benefit immune health. Chamomile also has a high apigenin content which makes it a beneficial antibacterial agent. It has been claimed that regularly consuming chamomile tea can boost the immune system and help to fight infections associated with the common cold. The health promoting benefits of chamomile was analysed in a clinical study that monitored fourteen volunteers who each drank five cups of the herbal tea daily for 14 days. Daily urine samples showed that drinking chamomile resulted in increased urinary levels of hippurate and glycine, both linked to increased antibacterial activity (7, 11).
4. Chlorella: Researchers first studied chlorella after World War II as a potential protein option for a growing global population. It has higher levels of vitamins and minerals than spirulina and is a better source of healthy fats like omega-3s. Chlorella boasts a wide array of nutrients. Depending on its source, it typically contains about 50-60% complete protein with all nine essential amino acids. This makes it a great option for people on a plant-based diet or anyone who is need of a protein boost.
Chlorella may also clear toxins from the body by binding to potentially harmful heavy metals, flushing them from the body, before they are absorbed. Chlorella also contains a very powerful antioxidant called violaxanthin and studies show it decreases inflammation. Researchers advocate that inflammation is the leading cause of death in the world. Additional research points to further antioxidants in chlorella, (lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein, and vitamin C) that also contribute to this beneficial effect.
Chlorella can offer powerful immune system support through its antioxidant and nutrient profiles that have shown anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and even anti-tumour properties. In scientific studies, chlorella has increased levels of white blood cells that are responsible for enhancing immune responses and infection fighting responses (6).
5. Kale may be a powerful dietary aid in supporting and strengthening the immune system. Kale is rich in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. Kale is much higher in vitamin C than most other vegetables, containing over 4 times more than spinach (8). Vitamin C helps to keep the cells healthy so that they can perform their essential functions.
Kale is also loaded with unique compounds that are believed to have protective effects against cancer. One of these is sulforaphane, a compound that has been shown to help combat the growth of cancer at the molecular level. It also contains another substance called indole-3-carbinol that is also thought to help in the prevention of cancer (10).
Product Highlight Top Up for Women:
A nutritious superfood blend to support vitality and energy in women. Our nutrient-rich wholefoods deliver plant-derived vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants alongside enzymes, prebiotic fibres, and probiotics to support vitality and energy in women. This nutrient dense, premium blend contains organically sourced ingredients and includes celery, barley grass, chlorella, chamomile, and kale.
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2. Sasaki, D et al, (2019). Bifidogenic and butyrogenic effects of young barely leaf extract in an in vitro human colonic microbiota model. AMB Expr;9:182.
3. L. Lahouar, S. El-Bok, & L. Achour, (2015). Therapeutic potential of young green barley leaves in prevention and treatment of chronic diseases: an overview, The Amer Journ of Chin Med;43:7;1311–1329.
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5. Arango D et al, (2013). Molecular basis for the action of a dietary flavonoid revealed by the comprehensive identification of apigenin human targets. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA;110:E2153–62
6. WebMD, 2020, Chlorella, are there health benefits?, viewed available at: https://www.webmd.com/diet/chlorella-health-benefits
7. Srivastava JK, Shankar E, Gupta S, (2010). Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Mol Med Rep;3(6):895-901.
8. Nutrition Data (2020), Kale; viewed 19/8/2022, available at: https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2461/2
9. Kasiri N, Rahmati M, Ahmadi L, Eskandari N, (2018). The significant impact of apigenin on different aspects of autoimmune disease, Inflammopharmacology;26(6):1359-1373
10. Xu T, Ren D, Sun X, Yang G, (2012). Dual roles of sulforaphane in cancer treatment. Anticancer Agents Med Chem;12(9):1132-42.
11. Wang Y, Tang H, Nicholson JK, Hylands PJ, Sampson J, Holmes E, (2005). A metabonomic strategy for the detection of the metabolic effects of chamomile (Matricaria recutita L.) ingestion. J Agric Food Chem;53:191–196.