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Importance of Protein for the Immune System

Proteins are one of the essential nutrients of the human body . They act as building blocks for our tissues and are well known for their role in muscle growth. A highly underrated and less talked about function which proteins have is in ensuring good immunity. No wonder chicken soup is a strong recommendation whenever people fall sick. There is nothing magical in the chicken soup, its the protein in the chicken which helps you get better .In this article we will analyze the vital role proteins play for our immune system.

Immune System: The Basics

Before we move on to the role of proteins in the immune system, let us understand the basics of how our immune system works. Our immune system is the body’s natural defense system against foreign particles which helps us fight diseases. Recall the time when you started scratching from a mosquito bite, it is because our immune system alerts us. Likewise for sneezing, it is the body’s response towards unwanted particles entering the body. This TedX video makes a good short representation of the immune system

Brief Explanation of the Body’s immune System

The strength of the immune system much like most of our other bodily functions is dependent on a good diet . Proteins must be obtained from the diet and along with Vitamin C they play a crucial role for both our innate and adaptive immune system. Antibodies essentially are proteins produced by our immune system which pick up the signals of the invading pathogens known as antigens and destroy the invading pathogens . This process is known as phagocytosis. Therefore a diet with optimal protein intake ensures our immune system’s response to bacteria and viruses would be sufficient to neutralize their threat.

Role of Protein in the Immune System

Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cells which play a crucial role in our immune system . They are produced in our bone marrow and move throughout our body’s lymphatic system. The lymphatic system consists of the spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes which protect us from infection. Lymphocytes are further categorized as

(a) B cells which remain in the bone marrow and consists of 25% of total lymphocytes

(b) T cells the remaining 75% lymphocytes which travel to our thymus which becoming the T cells.

The B and T cells together fight an infection. As mentioned earlier, our immune system produces antibodies to fight an infection. The antibodies are produced by the B cells. The antibody identifies an antigen and attaches itself to the pathogen invading our body. The T cells then destroy the pathogens. this role can also be performed by another type of white blood cells known as macrophages.

In this context it is important to note that our immune system does not go overboard. In fact there are cases in which it does go overboard and starts targeting our own body cells , thus creating an autoimmune condition which often results in an autoimmune disease. To prevent this there are cytokines, a type of protein which act as intercellular signals . Cytokines play a vital role in ensuring our immune system acts at the right time and is prevented from attacking our body’s healthy cells. In summary, they act as checks and balances of the immune system. Hence a diet which has optimal protein not only ensures proper antibody production to fight pathogens but also prevents an autoimmune response. Cytokines also simulate or inhibit the body’s inflammatory response as needed.

A discussion on the role of proteins in the immune system would be incomplete without mentioning about complement proteins. The complement system is a group of more than 30 proteins that work with antibodies to destroy invading pathogens. The complement system supports the destruction or bursting of foreign and infected cells (lysis), engulfing them (phagocytosis) and inflammation of the surrounding tissues. The proteins of the complement system are produced by our liver and remain in an inactive state in the blood and is activated when the body is under attack from pathogens.

Thus we can see that proteins play a very vital role in our body’s immune system without which we would fall sick every other day. Lack of proper dietary protein affects the liver’s ability to manufacture proteins for the complement system and weakens the body’s defense against pathogens. It is essential to ensure a diet rich in protein for a good defense against germs. Choose a diet rich in eggs, poultry, fish , meat and dairy to ensure all essential amino acids are available to your body for a proper functioning of the immune system.

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3 Thoughts on “Importance of Protein for the Immune System”

  1. Very informative. The general impression is that vitamins are necessary for your immune system. Didn’t know that protiens are important too.

  2. […] The immune system is the hot topic of discussion during the trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a constant barrage of misinformation from claiming certain diets to certain foods as cures to COVID-19 . Some claims are harmless such as garlic, consuming citrus fruits , ginger and turmeric, which won’t boost your immune system but won’t do much damage. However, there are potentially harmful claims like overdosing Vitamins, consuming colloidal silver and self medicating with chloroquine. Despite the overwhelming information on the internet, there is no food which can magically “boost your immune system” . Good immunity takes months and years to build with simple yet hard to implement practice of healthy eating, exercise , adequate sleep and leading a stress free life . In a three part series I will cover how the immune system is impacted by exercise, diet and sleep & stress. In order to develop a better understanding of the basics of the immune system, it is worth reading on the importance of protein for the immune system. […]