If you skimp on sleep, don’t exercise regularly and don't watch your diet, your immune system pays the price. It won’t be able to produce the army of cells that identify and destroy invading bacteria and viruses, fight infections and heal wounds. This complex system demands certain nutrients including protein and about 11 vitamins and minerals. Oatmeal is a good source of three minerals the immune system needs to stay healthy.
Many immune-system cells depend on an adequate supply of zinc. It's essential for the growth and function of cells that recognize invading pathogens, as well as cells that destroy bacteria, viruses and toxins. Since your body doesn’t store zinc, it’s important to get a regular supply from your daily diet. Women need 8 milligrams of zinc daily, except during pregnancy and breastfeeding when the recommended dietary allowance increases to 11 milligrams and 12 milligrams, respectively. Oatmeal provides a big boost of zinc, with 1 cup of cooked, unenriched oatmeal supplying 2.34 milligrams or 29 percent of your daily recommended intake.
Selenium binds with proteins to form several groups of enzymes called selenoproteins. Some selenoproteins work as antioxidants and others help regulate your thyroid gland. They also help regulate the immune system response. During times of stress, infection and injury, selenoproteins protect against damage caused by free radicals, according to "Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements," a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization. The daily recommended dietary allowance for selenium is 55 micrograms. If you’re pregnant, the RDA increases to 60 micrograms and then it goes up to 70 micrograms during breastfeeding. You’ll get 12.6 micrograms or 22 percent of your recommended daily intake from 1 cup of unenriched oatmeal.
Women of child-bearing age need 18 milligrams of iron daily, which is more than double the amount needed by men or post-menopausal women because so much is lost during menstruation. To meet the increased iron demands during pregnancy, the RDA jumps to 27 milligrams daily, but then during breastfeeding it drops to 9 milligrams. If you don’t have enough iron, your immune system becomes vulnerable. It's essential for the system to initiate an immune response to invading bacteria. It’s also needed for the normal growth and development of cells that kill pathogens.
Beta-glucan is the soluble fiber in oats that makes them so effective at lowering cholesterol. The same fiber may have a role in your immune system as well. Some types of beta-glucan enhance the function of immune cells, including cells that consume bacteria, according to an article in the December 2011 issue of the “Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.” A review published in November 2010 in “Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care” journal concluded that beta-glucans seem to effectively enhance immune function and lower susceptibility to infection. The review notes that to date, researchers have not determined how much beta-glucan you might need to impact your immune system.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Cereals, Oats, Regular and Quick, Unenriched, Cooked With Water (Includes Boiling and Microwaving), Without Salt
- Linus Pauling Institute: Nutrition and Immunity
- Linus Pauling Institute: Zinc
- Linus Pauling Institute: Selenium
- Antioxidants and Redox Signaling: The Role of Selenium in Inflammation and Immunity: From Molecular Mechanisms to Therapeutic Opportunities
- Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements: Selenium
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Iron
- Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism: Beta-Glucan: Health Benefits in Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome; Beta Glucan: Health Benefits in Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome D. El Khoury, et al.
- Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: Immune Modulating Effects of Beta-Glucan; Murphy EA, et al.
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Whole-Grain Ready-to-Eat Oat Cereal, as Part of a Dietary Program for Weight Loss, Reduces Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol in Adults with Overweight and Obesity More Than a Dietary Program Including Low-Fiber Control Foods
Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.