When it comes to your everyday wellbeing, few things are more important than your immune system. This huge, complex network of cells, organs and antibodies works constantly to guard you against illness and keep you fighting fit. In particular, it protects your body from invasion by bacteria, viruses and other nasties.
Your immune system also stops infection spreading, and gets rid of dead cells from your body. And, if working correctly, it recognises normal, healthy tissue and leaves it well alone.
Does the liver affect the immune system?
You might not know it, but your liver plays a major role in helping your immune system fight against infection. In fact, it has the largest collection of phagocytes in the body – cells that ingest harmful bacteria, foreign particles and dead or dying cells.
Your liver then expels these out through the blood as part of its overall job filtering out toxins. Plus, your liver helps produce a range of proteins that are crucial for healthy immunity.
All this means that optimising the health of your liver can be important when it comes to helping your body fight off disease. Here are some tips to help boost both your immune and liver functions.
Your immune system and your diet
Lots of factors can challenge our immune system – but luckily there are things you can do to support its function. In particular, getting the right vitamins and foods could help. Including the following nutrients in your daily diet could also be a good idea:
This nutrient is essential for the normal functioning of the immune system – it helps fight inflammation and supports the formation of our mucous membranes, our first line of defense against infection.
You’ll find it in eggs, cod liver oil, and dark green leafy vegetables.
This helps support the cellular functions needed for a thriving immune system.
Oranges and orange juice are famously a good source, but also try kiwi fruit, tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli, and red or green peppers.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) helps support our immune systems, as well as nervous system function, protein metabolism, and red blood cell formation. It’s found in animal products including pork, fish and eggs, but also plant foods like chickpeas, wholegrains, bananas and butternut squash.
Vitamin B9 (folate)
Also known as folate, vitamin B9 plays a role in chemical reactions in the body that affect our immune system. Folic acid is the man-made form of folate. Good sources of folate include broccoli, leafy green vegetables such as kale or spinach, and Brussels sprouts.
Vitamin B12 helps make nucleic acids, which form our DNA, and cell proteins associated with our immune system. We also need it to make red blood cells.
You can find it in meat, fish, dairy, eggs, enriched nutritional yeast, and fortified plant milks.
In recent years we’ve learned more about how vitamin D helps keep your immune system functioning normally.
We make ‘the sunshine vitamin’ naturally by exposing our unprotected skin to direct sunlight during the summer months. However, our bodies can’t make enough during the darker winter months in the UK. The government recommends everybody take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms between October and March. Some foods also contain vitamin D, including red meat, oily fish, eggs and some fortified cereals and spreads.
How to boost your liver function and immune system
There are plenty of steps you can take that will help keep both your liver and your immune system in good shape:
- Eat a diet that is high in immune-boosting foods such as fruits and vegetables.
- Only drink alcohol in moderation.
- Don’t smoke.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Take steps to avoid contagious liver infections such as hepatitis A, like washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
- Try to minimise stress.