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The Importance of Amino Acids for Immunity

The Importance of Amino Acids for Immunity

Written by our in-house Naturopath, Holistic Nutritionist and Medical Herbalist Em, from Nala Holistic

Our immune system is like our inner army that defends and protects us from infectious viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, and so on. And, a well-functioning immune system is dependent on proper nutrition, as well as things like movement, mitigating stress, prioritising rest and play, and healthy relationships.

What is Immunity?

Our immune system is made up of two parts, our “innate” immunity, and our “adaptive” immunity.

The innate immune system is our ‘first line of defense’, working to prevent pathogens from entering the body, and, if they do, capturing and destroying them as quickly as possible. This tends to be an inflammatory response, increasing blood flow to infected areas.

Our adaptive immune system relies on specificity and memory. Specific cells recognising and tagging specific pathogens, then storing this information in its memory. Thus, future responses to previously encountered pathogens are more efficient and effective. Infectious agents have little ‘tags’ called antigens on their surface, these are recognised by the antibodies on the surface of adaptive immune cells, forming an antigen-antibody complex that gets stored in immune memory for future defense.

The key difference between innate and adaptive immunity is that the adaptive immunity has memory, whereas the innate does not.

Amino Acids & The Immune System

Having a deficient dietary protein intake is directly linked to compromised immune function and an increase in susceptibility to infection (1). Protein is made up of 'building blocks' called amino acids. Let's take a look at two key amino acids and their role in immune function: 

Glutamine

Glutamine is considered an 'immunonutrient' as it is a preferred source of fuel for enterocytes and lymphocytes (2,3). Enterocytes help to keep the gut-lining intact and this structural integrity important because up to 70-80% of our immune system lies within the gut (2). Lymphocytes are one of the many immune cells that help your body fight foreign invaders! Glutamine helps to fuel and mobilise lymphocytes in response to infection (4). 

Gut integrity and lymphocyte activity may become compromised if glutamine intake or concentrations are low. 


Glutathione

Glutathione is our most abundant antioxidant within our cells, playing a crucial role in regulating oxidative stress! Oxidative stress occurs when there is a build up of free radicals, which are produced for many reasons, including the immune response. Oxidative stress can cause cellular and tissue damage when we don't have enough antioxidants to mop up these free radicals. Glutathione also helps to regenerate other antioxidants, AND is involved in detoxification and numerous enzymatic reactions (5).

Glutathione is produced within the body from the amino acids glutamine, cysteine, and glycine. In other words, glutathione production is dependent on the availability of these amino acids, plus levels of hormones, stress, and activity. 

Depletion of glutathione impairs immune function and increases susceptibility to oxidative damage (6). 

4 Simple Tips To Keep Well This Winter

  1. Consume a whole food diet, full of immune supporting foods like quality protein, warming spices (like turmeric, ginger and chilli), vitamin C rich foods, fermented foods and seasonal produce.

  2. Top up your protein intake with Mitchells Bone Broth Powder or Mitchells Bone Broth Protein Powder - these are abundant in amino acids and contains a complete naturally occurring amino acid profile.

  3. Prioritise rest and relaxation to support stress reduction, as the winter months is a great time to reset

  4. Move your body everyday, ideally in fresh air.

  

Related blog posts

References

  1. Li, P., Yin, Y. L., Li, D., Kim, S. W., & Wu, G. (2007). Amino acids and immune function. The British journal of nutrition, 98(2), 237–252. https://doi.org/10.1017/S000711450769936X

  2. Wiertsema, S. P., van Bergenhenegouwen, J., Garssen, J., & Knippels, L. M. J. (2021). The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies. Nutrients, 13(3), 886. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13030886

  3. Kim, M. H., & Kim, H. (2017). The Roles of Glutamine in the Intestine and Its Implication in Intestinal Diseases. International journal of molecular sciences, 18(5), 1051. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18051051

  4. Chang, W. K., Yang, K. D., & Shaio, M. F. (1999). Lymphocyte proliferation modulated by glutamine: involved in the endogenous redox reaction. Clinical and experimental immunology, 117(3), 482–488. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2249.1999.01009.x

  5. Pizzorno J. (2014). Glutathione!. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 13(1), 8–12.

  6. Ghezzi P. (2011). Role of glutathione in immunity and inflammation in the lung. International journal of general medicine, 4, 105–113. https://doi.org/10.2147/IJGM.S15618

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