Boost Your Immune System
Our immune system is a remarkable team effort by a range of organs, cells, and proteins to defend our body against hostile invaders. Without it, we wouldn’t last long, so we have to nurture it by leading a healthy lifestyle. Think of it as a two-way street: staying healthy keeps our immune system strong, and having a strong immune system helps us stay healthy.
So how do we do this? The fundamentals are well-known: personal hygiene, getting exercise, sleeping well, avoiding stress, and eating a balanced diet. The last of these is where seal meat and oil come in. Like all nutritious foods, seal meat and oil indirectly benefit our immune system by keeping us healthy in the first place. And they also play a direct role in building and maintaining a strong immune system.
But before we look at the indirect and direct benefits of seal meat and oil for our immune system, let’s understand the vital tasks our immune system performs:
- It fights off pathogens like bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi, and expels them from the body;
- it neutralises harmful substances, like toxic chemicals, that we inadvertently ingest or touch; and
- it fights disease-causing changes in the body, like the growth of cancer cells.
Or, to be more precise, these are the functions it tries to perform.
We are born with a certain level of immunity – known as our innate immune system – and then develop an adaptive immune system as our body encounters new invaders for the first time. Combined, these two are our main line of defence against common ailments, plus we provide some life-saving assistance in the form of vaccines.
But our immune system is not infallible. If it was, we’d fall ill less often and less severely, and Covid-19 would have been over before it began!
Some people are more susceptible to compromised immunity than others, in particular: infants, whose adaptive immune systems are still developing; people with health-related conditions, like diabetes, that weaken the immune system; and the elderly. But all of us, no matter how healthy we think we are, should take our immune system seriously. It’s already on guard 24 hours a day, and we never know when we’ll need it most.
Seal Meat and Oil – Indirect Benefits
So let’s look first at how seal meat and oil help our immune system indirectly by keeping us healthy in the first place. Then we’ll look at the direct benefits.
The indirect benefits of seal meat are:
- It is extremely low in cholesterol. We actually need some cholesterol in our blood to build healthy cells, but most people in developed countries are certainly getting enough, and usually too much. Excess cholesterol forms fatty deposits in blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease.
- It is an excellent source of zinc, phosphorous and magnesium, all of which play important roles in energy metabolism, the process by which calories combine with oxygen to produce energy.
- It is rich in protein, which is essential for maintaining and building muscle mass and strength. In Canada, for a food manufacturer to claim its product is an “excellent” or “very high” source of protein, it must have a protein rating of 40 or more. Seal loin has a rating of 62, while flipper is only slightly behind, at 57.
- It is rich in iron and vitamin B12, both of which promote formation of red blood cells, the principal means by which oxygen is delivered to our body cells. Anemia, a condition characterised by insufficient red blood cells, is the most common blood disorder, affecting about a third of the world’s population.
And how about seal oil?
- Seal oil, which is derived from blubber, is also known as omega-3 oil, referring to a class of essential fatty acids it contains in abundance. These fatty acids are called “essential” because our bodies must have them, but don’t produce them, so we can only obtain them through our diets. Particularly important are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which is vital for neurological and cardiovascular health; and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), needed for development and maintenance of a healthy brain and heart, including during fetal development.
There are a few good sources of EPA and DHA, like chicken eggs and meat if the feed has been supplemented; and grass-fed beef. But the best sources by far are seal and krill oil, and fatty fish, like salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. As an added benefit, seal oil also contains docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), a fatty acid found in human breast milk, that boosts the levels of EPA and DHA already in the body and increases their accessibility.
- Omega-3 oil has demonstrated cardiovascular benefits. That’s why the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization, and others all recommend including fatty fish in our diets. If you don’t like fish, supplements are now readily available.
- According to Health Canada, seal oil helps to support the development of the brain, eyes, and nerves in children up to 12 years of age.
Seal Meat and Oil – Direct Benefits
So seal meat and oil are healthy dietary choices in general, which indirectly help our immune system perform better. They also play a direct role in building and maintaining a strong immune system.
Seal meat has two components that play vital roles in this: zinc and protein.
- Zinc plays an important role in normalising the function of our immune system. And since our bodies don’t produce zinc or store it for long either, we must get a steady supply in our diet. Fortunately, zinc is found in modest amounts in a wide variety of foods, and deficiencies are rare in developed countries. But why take a chance? Nothing beats oysters as a source of zinc, but they’re not to everyone’s liking, and they’re not always available, so try red meat instead. Health Canada recommends an adult man ingest 11 mg of zinc a day, and 23% of that is contained in a 125 g serving of seal loin.
- Protein helps our immune system build antibodies, which themselves are proteins used to identify and neutralize invaders. By weight, fully 23% of our 125 g serving of seal loin is protein.
Then there are the direct benefits of omega-3s for our immune system.
- A common symptom of many ailments is inflammation. For minor cuts and bruises, healing is quick and the inflammation subsides, but when inflammation lasts, it may be linked to a range of serious conditions, and even cause damage all on its own. Omega-3s regulate the production of cytokines – the molecules that cause inflammation – suggesting they may be used to prevent or treat inflammation, and thereby help the immune system function better.
- Omega-3s support a process called endothelial cell migration, which is essential in the repair of damaged blood vessels.
- And omega-3s have been shown to dissolve the envelopes that surround some viruses, even causing disintegration of the viruses themselves. A common enveloped virus in humans is herpes simplex.
In summary, staying healthy keeps our immune system strong, and having a strong immune system helps keep us healthy. It’s a win-win situation, and including seal meat and oil in our diets can make us all winners.