You are what you eat. An ancient adage, which may prove to be accurate according to recent research on the effects of dietary choices on an individual's genome. Genomes are unique blueprints of DNA that distinguish humans from one another -- genetic fingerprints. These “fingerprints” require food to provide fuel to multiple systems throughout the body. Thus, a subsequent relationship transcends directly from the digestive tract to our immune system.
After food is consumed, the body enlists a series of mechanisms to break it down to be more easily digested. Research has revealed some of these steps to be similar to the body's method of mounting defense via phagocytosis. Phagocytosis is the process of a phagocyte found in the mouth, intestine and digestive system, ingesting foreign molecules or bacteria to protect its host. When the phagocytes throughout the body metabolize certain foods the complex molecules needed to produce an immune response are created. Without the fuel of food, our bodies would have no capability to mount a defense.
This relationship between nutrition, immunity, infection, inflammation, and injury or damage is known as immunonutrition. Take for instance the potent punch of cranberries. Cranberries contain phytochemicals known to affect antioxidative and antimicrobial activities, ultimately increasing innate immunity and resistance to disease. Not a believer yet? This incremental influence was demonstrated by testing a water-soluble form of cranberry extract, proanthocyanidins, on a nematode worm. Elevated levels of immune genes resulted in increasing the efficacy of the worm's immune response. And with this efficacy arises the possibility of promoting healthy aging. Is diet the answer? Potentially. However, adopting a healthy lifestyle with the inclusion of micronutrient-rich foods is a fruitful initiation into developing a robust immune system and aging heartily.
Written by: Sam Heller, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern
Source: Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine