8 Vitamins and Minerals You Need for a Healthy Immune System
You can’t just eat an orange or grapefruit and expect one quick burst of vitamin C to prevent a cold. A truly healthy immune system depends on a balanced mix of vitamins and minerals over time, plus normal sleep patterns and a hefty dose of exercise.
With some exceptions, it’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from your food rather than in pill form. Here are some tips for getting the top vitamins and minerals your immune system needs to perform.
Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, strawberries and papaya are also excellent sources. In fact, vitamin C is in so many foods that most people may not need to take supplements unless a doctor advises it.
Vitamin C is one of the biggest immune system boosters of all. In fact, a lack of vitamin C can even make you more prone to getting sick. Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, kale and broccoli. Daily intake of vitamin C is essential for good health because your body doesn’t produce or store it. The good news is that vitamin C is in so many foods that most people don’t need to take a vitamin C supplement unless a doctor advises it.
Vitamin C has an essential role in normal immune function. It is found most richly in fruit and vegetables and aids the formation of collagen, wound healing and is an antioxidant.
This means that it scavenges free "radicals", which are charged particles that can damage cells, tissues and genetic material, which can affect your immunity.
Most of us can achieve the recommended daily amount of vitamin C by simply eating a large orange, though smokers may need a slightly higher intake as, according to the National Institute of Health, smoking can deplete the body's vitamin C.
- Like vitamin C, vitamin E can be a powerful antioxidant that helps your body fight off infection. Almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds are all high in vitamin E. So are spinach and broccoli.
- Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight off infection. Foods rich in vitamin E include nuts, seeds and spinach.
This important vitamin — part of nearly 200 biochemical reactions in your body — is critical in how your immune system functions. Foods high in vitamin B6 include bananas, lean chicken breast, cold-water fish such as tuna, baked potatoes and chickpeas. Vitamin B6 is vital to supporting biochemical reactions in the immune system. Vitamin B6-rich foods include chicken and cold water fish such as salmon and tuna. Vitamin B6 also is found in green vegetables and in chickpeas, which is the main ingredient in hummus
For vitamin A, go colorful. Foods that are high in colorful compounds called carotenoids — carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupe and squash — are all great options. The body turns these carotenoids into vitamin A, and they have an antioxidant effect to help strengthen the immune system against infection.
As mentioned above, it’s best to get most of your vitamins from food, but vitamin D may be the exception to that rule. You can increase your intake through foods such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines) and fortified foods such as milk, orange juice and cereals. Many people have a hard time absorbing vitamin D from food, so if you have a vitamin D deficiency, talk to your doctor about supplements. Vitamin D is often associated with the healthy development of bones, joints and muscles. However, we are learning more about this humble vitamin, and now understand that it is associated with far more than just our skeleton.
It has been found to adapt our immune responses, and that a deficiency in it can be a trigger in autoimmune conditions and susceptibility to infections.
Vitamin D is primarily made from a reaction of the sun on our skin. During the winter months, when the sun does not often shine through the clouds and is weaker when it does, this can be difficult to achieve.
Some foods, including oily fish, egg yolk, meat and offal, contain vitamin D in small amounts. However, for most of the population, a maintenance dose of vitamin D in the form of a supplement is required over the winter months, recommended by the NHS at a dose of 10mcg Vitamin D3 daily.
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.
These B vitamins have been found to have a role in the immune system, and a deficiency in them can alter the response of the immune system. This is by inhibiting the body's ability to make antibodies, white blood cells and other immune factors it needs to fight off infection.
Folate/folic acid B9
Folate is found in a wide range of foods including vegetables, legumes, eggs, and fruit. It is also known as vitamin B-9.
Adequate folate intake is extremely important during periods of rapid growth such as pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of folate is different for people of different ages, as follows:
- 0 to 6 months: 65 mcg
- 7 to 12 months: 80 mcg
- 1 to 3 years: 150 mcg
- 4 to 8 years: 200 mcg
- 9 to 13 years: 300 mcg
- over 14 years: 400 mcg
- during pregnancy: 600 mcg
- during lactation: 500 mcg
Decreased risk of congenital deformities
It is essential to consume enough folic acid during pregnancy to help protect against miscarriage and neural tube defects in the fetus.
Recent research has also shown that a father’s folate status before conception may be just as important.
Lower risk of depression
Maintaining a healthy heart
Folic acid supplements have been found to lower levels of homocysteine.
As elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, some researchers have suggested that folic acid and B12 may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Folate and cancer
Low levels of folate intake are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in women and several epidemiological studies have suggested an inverse association between folate status and the risk of colorectal, lung, pancreatic, esophageal, stomach, cervical, ovarian and other cancers.
Some studies even suggest that high folate status might promote progression of cancer that is already present, such as a study in rats that showed how supplementation can cause tumor growth.
There are 150 different forms of folate, and losses of between 50 and 90 percent can occur during cooking, storing, or processing. The best sources of folate are green vegetables, legumes, and liver.
One cup of some of the best natural food sources of folate contains the following amounts:
- Asparagus: 268 mcg
- Beef liver: 290 mcg
- Lentils: 920 mcg
- Beans: 784 mcg
- Spinach: 58 mcg
- Lettuce: 14 mcg
- Avocado: 118 mcg
- Egg yolk: 355 mcg
- Banana: 45 mcg
- Mushrooms: 16 mcg
- Broccoli: 28 mcg
Iron, which helps your body carry oxygen to cells, comes in different forms. Your body can more easily absorb “heme iron,” which is abundant in lean poultry such as chicken and turkey, plus seafood. But never fear, vegetarians: You can get other forms of iron in beans, broccoli and kale.
Selenium seems to have a powerful effect on the immune system, including the potential to slow the body’s over-active responses to certain aggressive forms of cancer. You can find it in garlic, broccoli, sardines, tuna, brazil nuts and barley, among other foods.
You can find zinc in oysters, crab, lean meats and poultry, beans, yogurt and chickpeas. Zinc appears to help slow down the immune response and control inflammation in your body.
Zinc is known to be an important "micronutrient" for the immune system, and a deficiency of it can result in an impaired immune response.
There is even evidence to suggest that by taking a zinc supplement within 24 hours of a cold commencing, it can reduce the severity and duration of the illness.
Zinc can be found in plenty of foods, including seafood, meat, beans and pulses.
Several members of the B vitamin complex, namely vitamin B6, B12 and B9, have been implicated in the immune response.
Bonus Tip: When You Can’t Eat Fresh, Eat Frozen
Depending on where you live and what time of year it is, you can’t always get your hands on high-quality fresh produce. Keep this in mind: Frozen is fine. Manufacturers freeze frozen fruits and veggies at “peak” ripeness, which means they’ll pack a similar nutritional value as their fresh counterparts.
How to boost your immunity
Our immune systems do not have an on and off switch that a supplement will flip.
Instead, the immune system relies on a complex integration of various cells, organs, proteins and tissues which work together to recognise and neutralise pathogens.
Furthermore, the immune system is not designed to be "boosted", and if it were able to work in overdrive it could actually result in us becoming more unwell by damaging our healthy cells and tissue as well, which is what can happen in "autoimmune" conditions.
However, there are numerous nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are required to support the normal functioning of your immune system.
Most of these nutrients, except for vitamin D, can be sourced easily from a well-rounded, healthy diet. While we are aware that malnutrition can impair immune function, providing you have an adequate intake, any product suggesting its pill will "boost" your immunity is likely to be misleading.
It may laud the evidence to support that supplement as one of the factors in the functioning of the immune system, but it is unlikely, in isolation, to be able to do very much for you.
Gut microbiome And Healthy Digestion
A number of studies have shown that omega 3 is associated with boosted B-cell activity which is a vital part of our immune system.
We can make a only small amount of EPA and DHA from ALA, so it is still important to get it from our diet too. ALA can mainly be found in plant oils, nuts and seeds; and DHA and EPA, in oily fish.
Moderate your drinking