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5 Critical Nutrients for your Immune System

Supercharge Your Immune System.

A Healthy Balance is Key
Essential Nutrients your body needs

Who wouldn't want a healthy immune system?

Amid the global pandemic, you may feel as though life has suddenly turned upside down and your motivation is at an all-time low. However, we all aspire to be as healthy as possible because in the age of covid-19, who doesn’t want a healthy immune system? (Raise your hand. No-one?)

You’ll be surprised by the tons of simple and affordable changes you can make to your diet to keep your body’s natural resistance in tip-top shape and protect yourself from toxins and infections.

The immune system is a complex system of specialized cells and biological responses integrated into the entire body. From digestion in your gut to your brain chemistry and everything in between, a healthy immune system requires a wealth of resources in order to do its job properly – particularly micronutrients that are used to support the immune system.

While all vitamins and minerals have an important role to play, some are more important than others. Here, we’re highlighting five critical nutrients necessary for optimal immune health. Plus, learn about the foods that add these vitamins and minerals to your diet.

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A, also known as beta carotene, is an essential vitamin which means that our bodies cannot make it on its own. For this reason, it is important to make sure you give your body enough of this infection-fighting nutrient. An early sign of a mild vitamin A deficiency is a decreased ability to fight off infections.

The Science Behind Vitamin A and Immunity

While Vitamin A plays an important role in vision and tissue growth, it also plays an essential role in supporting and strengthening the immune system. The immune system is made up of two parts: the innate, (general) immune system and the adaptive (specialized) immune system.

Vitamin A regulates the immune system and strengthens both the innate and adaptive immune systems of the body. The innate immune system is the body’s first line of defense against germs entering the body (skin, eyes, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract and reproductive organs.) The adaptive immune system takes over if the innate immune system is not able to destroy the germs by producing antibodies that attack foreign invaders (like the flu virus).

Vitamin A helps the body fight off viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections and is crucial to building immune tolerance within the tissue lining the digestive tract.

Food Sources of Vitamin A

Retinoids

  • Beef liver
  • Herring
  • Cow’s milk (fortified with vitamin A)
  • Shrimp
  • Eggs
  • Salmon

Carotenoids

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Dark leafy vegetables
  • Swiss chard
  • Butternut squash
  • Pumpkin

2. Vitamin B

Vitamin B refers to not one, but eight different vitamins. Making new immune cells, boosting the immune system and initiating an immune response requires several B vitamins. These include vitamins B6, B12 and B9.

These B vitamins have been found to have a role in the immune system. A deficiency in these B vitamins can alter the response of the immune system. This means that the  body’s ability to make antibodies, white blood cells and other immune factors is compromised and it cannot fight off infection effectively.

Food Sources of Vitamin B

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and milk products, so where vegans are not adequately supplementing their diets they can develop a deficiency. 

Vitamin B6 is needed to absorb vitamin B12 and to make red blood cells and cells of the immune system. It can be found in foods including beef liver, chickpeas, tuna, salmon, rice, cereals and onions.

Most people only ever hear about folic acid (vitamin B9) in pregnancy as women are advised to take it daily in the first three months. Its role in pregnancy is to ensure that your baby does not develop neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Folic acid is naturally present in a wide variety of foods, including dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, seafood, eggs and meat.

3. Vitamin C

Vitamin C always gets a lot of attention – and for good reason. Like Vitamin A, this essential vitamin is greatly involved in supporting healthy tissue growth and wound healing. Vitamin C is also known to stimulate the production of white blood cells, which are important in the immune system and responsible for fighting off infections.

The Science Behind Vitamin C and Immunity

Vitamin C’s extraordinary immune-boosting powers are likely linked to its antioxidant properties. Thus, being an antioxidant itself, Vitamin C assists in regenerating other antioxidants – like Vitamin E – in the body, thus decreasing the number of harmful free radicals that can encourage infections. Basically, this vitamin ramps up the antioxidant activity in the body and aids in the absorption of other nutrients.

Food Sources of Vitamin C

  • Citrus fruits
  • Bell peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes

4. Zinc

Zinc, often referred to as the “gatekeeper of immune function” is crucial for normal development and functioning of cells. This mineral is essential to the function of a healthy immune system thus, often referred to as the “gatekeeper of immune function”.  Zinc is a well-known mineral associated with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It is also important for wound healing as well as helping the body fight off infection from bacteria and viruses.

The Science Behind Zinc and Immunity

Zinc plays a special role in supporting T-cells, which is a special type of red blood cell associated with fighting off foreign pathogens. For this reason, higher quantities of zinc are recommended for aging adults to boost the immune system response.

Studies indicate that zinc taken at the onset of a cold or virus will help drive down the duration and severityn of symptoms associated with the common cold by preventing the entry of the virus into cells and stopping it from multiplying in the body. For this reason, Zinc is often present in remedies for viral infections (common cold or seasonal flu).

It’s actually critical to consume zinc daily, since the body lacks the ability to store the mineral.

Food Sources of Zinc

  • Oysters
  • Beef
  • Crab
  • Lean meats
  • Lobster
  • Chicken
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Yogurt
  • Cashews
  • Chickpeas
  • Baked beans

5. Vitamin D

Produced in the skin in response to sunlight, Vitamin D commonly known as the “sunshine vitamin”, is a fat-soluble vitamin in a family of compounds that includes vitamins D-1, D-2, and D-3. This vitamin is one of the most important and powerful nutrients for facilitating normal immune system function.

Getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D is important for normal growth and development of bones and teeth, as well as improved resistance against certain diseases.

The Science Behind Vitamin D and Immunity

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. There are five forms of the vitamin – D1, D2, D3, D4 and D5. However, vitamins D2 and D3 appear to be the most important in the human body.

Though perhaps best known for its bone health benefits, vitamin D also plays a critical role in strengthening our innate and adaptive immune responses. Our bodies create vitamin D when we soak up UV rays from the sun. Unfortunately, there are very few food sources of vitamin D, and most people don’t get enough vitamin D from the sun to meet their needs, especially in the winter.

Vitamin D helps strengthen the immune system and aids cell to cell communication in the body by signaling the body to create immune-boosting compounds, like antimicrobial proteins responsible for protecting the body from getting sick.

Vitamin D is also important for muscle function, the respiratory system, cardiovascular function, brain development, and it even has anti-cancer properties.

Food Sources of Vitamin D

Your body produces vitamin D naturally when it’s directly exposed to sunlight. You can also get it through certain foods and supplements to ensure adequate levels of the vitamin in your blood.

  • Salmon. 
  • Mackerel.
  • Tuna.
  • Sardines.
  • Vitamin D fortified like milk, orange juice and cereals. 
  • Cod liver oil 
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Mushrooms with UV fortification
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