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Do vegans have better immunity? Here’s what science has to say

Published on:14 October 2020, 17:07pm IST
Planning on turning vegan but don’t know if it’s good for your immune system or not? Let’s settle the debate for once and for all.
Geetika Sachdev
The link between the vegan diet and immunity. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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In the last few years, more and more people have embraced the vegan diet for enhanced health. For the uninitiated, being vegan means consuming a vegetarian diet that excludes meat, eggs, dairy products, and all other animal-derived ingredients.

This type of diet offers several benefits, one of which is its potential to strengthen our immune system. 

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Is it healthier because there is no meat in the diet or because it focuses on the heavy consumption of fruits and veggies? We don’t really know, but let’s delve deeper to understand why this plant-based diet works well for your immune system. 

Also, read: 4 foods you must eat on an empty stomach for a stronger immunity

How does the immune system work?

The immune system works as a shield to protect you from all kinds of illnesses. We all know how our bodies are regularly exposed to different challenges—then be it mutated cells, bacteria or viruses. A good immune system protects you from these invaders, so that they don’t attack your body in any way and wreak havoc. 

The immune system constitutes two parts: one is the innate immune system that senses general threats and fights all kinds of pathogens. Then there is the adaptive or acquired immune system which creates a memory of past pathogens, so that it can personalise the attacks by releasing antibodies when faced with future invasions. 

ways to strengthen your immune system
Building immunity is all in your hands. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

To boost your immune system, you need to consume a diet rich in nutrients like zinc, iron, copper, selenium, vitamins A, B6, C and E. Most of these nutrients are best obtained from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. 

Why a plant-based diet is important for a strong immune system

As per research, 70 to 80% of your immune system is centred in your gut. Besides, the immune system is separated from 39 trillion microbes of your gut microbiome by a single layer of cells. These two layers are in constant contact. 

When immune cells are exposed to oxygen, they get damaged and produce compounds called free radicals. Consuming generous amounts of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, as well as various phytochemicals, can help prevent this damage. And plant-based diets are loaded with antioxidants!

Moreover, vegetarians and vegans consume veggies and fruits in higher quantities than non-vegetarians, which serves well for their immune systems. They also have a higher consumption of plant sterols (phytosterols), which may also improve immune function. 

While vegan might seem like the way to be, but Dr Shikha Sharma, Founder Nutri Health Systems, has a word of advice. “Vegan diet is a good diet plan, provided one takes supplements for vitamin B12 and is consciously choosing adequate protein and calcium in the diet from vegan sources. Good vegan sources of essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals like zinc and protein are important for immunity.”

The bottom line?

It’s not that a vegan diet makes you disease-proof, but it certainly enhances your immune system and helps to maintain good health. Combine a plant-based diet with proper sleep, regular exercise, stress management, and good hygiene to lead a good life! 

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Geetika Sachdev Geetika Sachdev

An independent writer and journalist, Geetika loves sharp and fresh humour, just like her coffee! If not writing, you'll find her cafe-hopping and raiding the best book stores in town.