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Ginger contains wide range of antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory molecules which reduce inflammation and can help support the immune system and defend against viruses. Whilst inflammation is an important part of the immune system, chronic inflammation can harm your immune system and lead to auto-immune diseases. Eating a diet high in antioxidant foods may help to keep your immune system working optimally.

Ginger has been found to modulate both the innate and adaptive immune response, particularly via macrophage activation. Macrophages mobilise an inflammatory response as are part of the first line of defence to antigens.

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Honey has potent antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-viral effects and may optimise the immune system. It modulated the innate and adaptive immune systems in a variety of ways. It has anti-bacterial action through a novel molecule called defensin-1, which acts like a natural antibiotic. Honey promotes production of a range of immune system cells including lymphocytes, phagocytes, monocytes and macrophages, and stimulates them to release cytokines.

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Lemons are citrus fruits which are not only a good source of vitamin C but also other antioxidants including flavonoids and polyphenols. Vitamin C is essential for collagen production, which provides an external barrier to pathogens from invading our bodies. Vitamin C is also required to increase the absorption of minerals such as iron and zinc, which contribute to a healthy immune system. Whilst vitamin C from lemon juice cannot prevent a cold, it can reduce the duration as seen in a range of large meta-analysis studies.

Lemons are also good source of dietary fibre, which we require for a healthy gut. These beneficial bacteria contribute to our immune health by providing a first line defence and immune modulating molecules to help regulate our immune system. Lemons also contain limonenes which are powerful anti-inflammatory molecules, and increased modulation of macrophage activation and T-lymphocycte activity.

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Elderberries are the fruit of the Sambucus (elderflower) tree and are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory molecules, particularly flavonoids and anthocyanins which can protect healthy cells from free radical damage. Some of these molecules can activate certain aspect of both the innate and adaptive immune system through the complement system which is part of the first line defence against infections. One of the ways in which elderberries can modulate the immune system is via activation and regulation of macrophages and monocytes.

A review of studies found that elderberries have anti-viral properties which may help reduce the duration of colds and influenza. Many smaller studies have found that taking an elderberry extract reduced the intensity of flu like symptoms and the duration of these during virus infections.

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Blackcurrants are rich in antioxidants such as epigallocatechin and anthocyanins which suppress inflammation and facilitate the immune system. The antioxidants modulate macrophage activation by suppressing the release of pro-inflammatory molecules. Supplementing with blackcurrants is particularly useful for those who exercise regularly as it can optimise the immune system and improve recovery from exercise. Blackcurrants are also potent antivirals and have had significant effects against a range of different influenza viruses.


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Low Vitamin D levels have long been linked to the increase of a range of diseases and ill health. Recent research has found that vitamin D can regulate both the innate and adaptive immune system, potentially as the B and T cells, and APC cells have vitamin D receptors. Vitamin D affects one of the mechanisms by which dendritic cells activate T cells. In healthy people, T cells are a really important part of the adaptive immune system in fighting infections as killer T cells destroy infected or cancerous cells, whilst helper T cells modulate the immune response.

Deficiency of Vitamin D is linked to increased susceptibility to infection and increased autoimmune disease. Having optimal levels of vitamin D helps to increase the amount of a molecule CD31 and this regulates the immune system.

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Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and an essential micronutrient for the immune system. It acts as a co-factor, which our immune system requires to catalyse enzyme reactions for both the innate and adaptive immune systems. Vitamin C is required for our immune system to work efficiently in several different ways by:

• Supporting the skin (epithelial cell) as a barrier preventing pathogens from entering the body.
• Protecting against environmental oxidative stress by boosting antioxidant activity in the skin
• Boosting neutrophil reactions (white blood cells) for phagocytosis of pathogens and microbes.
• Promoting apoptosis or programmed cell death and clearing of all neutralized pathogens preventing tissue damage.
• Amplifying B and T cell (other white blood cells) proliferation by gene regulation.

Deficiency of vitamin C leads to an impaired immune system and increased infections. Infections lead to the requirement of more vitamin C due to the increase in inflammation and metabolic demand. Supplementation has been found to prevent and treat infections, but a higher amount is required if there is already an infection in the body.

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Zinc is an important micronutrient for the both the innate and adaptive immune systems. Zinc modulates several facets of how the immune system works, including preventing the immune system from spiralling out of control in a feedback loop using a protein called NF-kB. Zinc is required for the normal development and action of neutrophils and natural killer cells which work to neutralise pathogens. It also required for the activation of T cell activation, cytokine production and B cell development.

Lack of zinc in the diet is a worldwide problem which leads to impaired immune function. Deficiency affects all aspects of the immune system and increases susceptibility to infection including macrophage actions including phagocytosis, cytokine production, apoptosis and dysregulating intracellular killing. Zinc supplementation can affect the immune system and potentially prevent colds when taken at the start of infection.