Saturday, December 5, 2009

Runners: Nutrients from Food (not Supplements) Keep Immune System Strong

Last month, I wrote about my struggles to fight off a nasty respiratory virus that kept me from running for nearly four weeks. It sparked a search on my part to learn more about improving my immune system’s ability to fight off infections.

A colleague of mine passed along an article from the Wall Street Journal last month that detailed the role nutrients from food have in maintaining a strong immune system. What it comes down to is knowing the vitamins and minerals that contribute to the immune system and the foods that serve as good sources for these nutrients. One fascinating point – malnourished people can serve as a breeding ground for viruses that spread to healthy people. Think about last spring’s outbreak of the H1N1 virus or the SARS virus from a few years ago.

So, what foods help your immune system? How much do you need?

The WSJ story provided a helpful chart of the key vitamins and minerals that contribute to a strong immune system. Vitamin A was the top nutrient, benefiting all four categories of immunity health. It helps regulate the immune system by making white blood cells that fight off infections and viruses. Good sources for vitamin A are liver, carrots, spinach and kale.

Other key nutrients and the food sources to look for include:

· Vitamin B-6: potatoes, bananas and fortified cereals
· Vitamin C: red pepper, orange juice, kiwi and broccoli
· Vitamin D: salmon, mackerel, tuna and fortified milk
· Vitamin E: wheat germ oil, almonds and sunflower seeds
· Iron: chicken liver, beef, fortified cereals, and beans
· Selenium: Brazil nuts, tuna (in oil), beef and turkey
· Zinc: oysters, Alaska king crab, pork shoulder and fortified cereals

The NIH Office of Dietary Supplements is a great resource for detailed information on these nutrients and the suggested serving sizes.

What's the issue with taking supplements to get these nutrients?

A multivitamin is a good addition to your diet, but supplements of individual vitamins and minerals can be problematic. Supplements aren't absorbed as easily by the body as nutrients from food. And too much of certain nutrients can be detrimental. For example, an excess of zinc can create problems with your body's ability to absorb other minerals. In addition, some supplements can interfere with over-the-counter drugs and prescriptions.

So runners, don't let a weak immune system interrupt your training schedule. Maintain your health by getting a good balance of vital nutrients from food. If you take supplements, be informed about the potential effects.

This week’s route is a 3.5 mile run through Druid Hills and Fernbank. You can find the route at Map My Run under my group Atlanta Running.

· Start at the parking lot of the Fernbank Museum

· Turn right on Clifton Rd· Turn right on E. Clifton Rd

· Turn right on Conventry Rd

· Turn right on Heaton Park Dr

· Turn left on Atwood Rd

· Turn right on Ponce de Leon Ave

· Turn right on N. Ponce de Leon Ave

· Turn right and cross Ponce de Leon Ave

· Veer right onto S. Ponce de Leon Ave

· Cross Ponce de Leon

· Turn left on Lullwater Estate

· Follow Lullwater back to Ponce de Leon

· Turn left on Ponce de Leon

· Turn left on Clifton Rd

· End at the Fernbank parking lot

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