By Oliver Chen, PhD – Director, Nutrition and Scientific Affairs, Biofortis Research
The immune system is influenced by many modifiable and unmodifiable factors, such as genes, age, sex, stress, hormone, exercise, drinking, smoking, health condition, and nutrition status. The significance of nutrition in the robust, optimal immune system is manifested especially during malnutrition, including undernutrition and overnutrition because an optimal supply of nutrients is required for the biosynthesis of immune factors and immune cell proliferation.
Nutrient inadequacies/deficiencies can increase the risk of infectious diseases and aggravate consequent symptom severity and complications if infected. Therefore, an adequate and balanced diet containing an abundant diversity of foods, nutrients, and non-nutrient chemicals is paramount for an optimal immune defense against infectious diseases, including cold/flu and non-communicable diseases. Micronutrients, including vitamins A, C, D, B6, B9, and B12, copper, iron, selenium, and zinc, as well as dietary fibers and non-nutrient phytochemicals, such as polyphenolics, collectively function to support the development and maintenance of the immune system and are being considered an immunostimulant. Additionally, the abundance of protein in the diet is essential for immunity as it is required for the proliferation of immune cells.
Optimizing Oat Nutrients
Recently, we published a review discussing the contribution of oat nutrients including dietary fiber (β-glucans), copper, iron, selenium, and zinc, polyphenolics (ferulic acid and avenanthramides), and proteins (glutamine) to optimizing the immune system’s response to infections. Oats are a renowned source of dietary fibers and β-glucans. While these molecules may directly modulate the immune system, they can also improve/maintain immunity through indirect mechanisms, such as modifying the gut microbiota composition and functions and increasing the production of SCFAs. Polyphenolics, including ferulic acid and avenanthramides in oats, can help optimize the immune system by regulating inflammatory response, boosting the antioxidant defense system, and modulating the gut microbiota.
Glutamine, an amino acid known for reducing infectious complications, also supports the consumption of oats for maintaining the pool of glutamine for immunity support. The information discussed in the review is significant particularly during the global SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic as people are more likely to consume energy dense food high in fats, refined carbohydrates, and sodium, which collectively impair the immune system and host defense against infection.