Joanne Smith and Kylie JamesThe immune system is a complex collection of cells, organs and systems found throughout the body. This dynamic system is responsible for protecting your body against infection and disease. It is well documented that people with a spinal cord injury and other chronic neurological conditions have compromised immune systems, which contributes to increased risk of bacterial and viral infections. Furthermore, studies show that people with quadriplegia or complete SCIs tend to have greater immune suppression than people with paraplegia or those with incomplete SCIs.

A recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and many servings of salsa, reminded me how incredibly healthy this Mexican meal accompaniment is for the immune system. While there are endless ways to make and enjoy salsa, there are a few key spicy ingredients that act to stimulate and support immune function.

Coriander, also known as cilantro, is considered both an herb and a spice. This deliciously fresh tasting plant is a powerful antioxidant that contains antibacterial compounds.

Chili peppers have a high content of beta carotene or provitamin A. Just two teaspoons of red chili peppers provide more than 10 percent of the daily value for vitamin A. Vitamin A helps maintain the mucosal surfaces of the gastrointestinal, respiratory and genitourinary tracts, which act as protective barriers to microorganisms.

Onion has sulfur-containing compounds that also help provide antibacterial benefits.

On the sweet side, pineapple is one of the best natural sources of Vitamin C, which is vital for the proper function of the immune system, too, thanks to its antibacterial and anti-viral properties. This vitamin is found in higher concentrations in white blood cells and is quickly utilized and depleted during an infection.

Studies demonstrate that Vitamin C can help increase the circulation of certain antibodies in the body, increase neutrophil functions, destroy bacteria, reduce the length of chronic illness and protect cell membranes from free radical damage. Vitamin C also helps to increase hormone secretions by the thymus gland and improve the integrity of the lining of the mucous membranes.

This yummy salsa recipe includes all of the above immune boosting nutrients — enjoy it with chicken, fish or on top of a salad! Buen provecho!

Fresh Pineapple Salsa (Salsa de Piña)

  • 2 cups finely chopped fresh pineapple
  • 1⁄2 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1⁄2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 4 serrano chiles, minced (optional)
  • 1 small red onion, minced

Place all ingredients in a large bowl, and toss until evenly combined. Let sit at room temperature to meld flavors, at least 30 minutes.

Joanne Smith and Kylie James are co-authors of the book Eat Well Live Well with SCI and Other Neurological Conditions. For more information on nutrition for neurological injuries, go to www.eatwelllivewellwithsci.com.