As we’ve found ourselves living in a pandemic recently, taking responsibility for our health has probably never been in focus quite as much.
Since our immune system provides resistance against potentially harmful infections and toxins that threaten our health, supporting and strengthening it is key to ensuring we have the best possible defence against disease. As we head into a change of season, it is important to focus on our immune health as people are considered more susceptible to colds, flu, and other infections. By understanding how our immune system is impacted by some of the elements of our environment today, you can learn how to put strategies into place to optimise your health and protect yourself and others.
Without further ado, here are some vitamins that play a significant role in supporting our immune system.
Vitamin D has been found to play a significant role in the function of the immune system. Often referred to as the ”sunshine” vitamin, the body primarily obtains it from the sunlight, where it is synthesised in the skin. Due to the lack of sunshine in the UK, vitamin D deficiency is thought to be widespread. A shortage of this vital vitamin compromises our ability to fight infection and increases our susceptibility to illness and disease. Studies are currently underway to determine vitamin D’s role in preventing respiratory infections. It is now an official government recommendation for everyone in the UK to take vitamin D supplements during the winter months.
Vitamin C is a crucial nutrient renowned for its role in immunity. Not only is vitamin C a powerful antioxidant, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties and supports the body’s ability to fight infection. Furthermore, it increases white blood cells and blocks viruses from entering cells. In addition, vitamin C has been shown to shorten the duration of the common cold. In some instances, when people are exposed to brief periods of intense physical exercise, vitamin C has even been shown to prevent a cold. There is also evidence that vitamin C supports a healthy stress response. Since we know that stress suppresses immunity, ensuring you get enough vitamin C is vital when anxiety and stress levels are seemingly high.
Vitamin E is a vital antioxidant, and research has found it can enhance the immune system. It can also protect the adrenal glands from free radical damage during the stress response, which we know can negatively affect immune health. Deficiency is associated with significantly impaired immune function. Supplementation has proven to be especially beneficial in enhancing immune function in the elderly. Food sources that include vitamin e are avocados, cold-pressed vegetable oils, dark green leafy vegetables and nuts and seeds.
Vitamin A was once known as the ”anti-infective vitamin” and is considered a significant determinant of immune status. It has been shown to have anti-viral activity and can prevent suppression of the immune system induced by the adrenal response. It is believed that those who are deficient are more susceptible to general infections but, more importantly, to virus infections. Vitamin A is found in the diet in the form of beta-carotene, of which food sources include red, yellow and orange plant foods. It is also found in the form of retinol, of which food sources include; high-fat animal foods such as eggs, butter, liver and full-fat dairy products. A supplement can provide targeted immune support, especially when both forms are combined.
A severe deficiency of zinc is known to suppress immune function. Even mild to moderate deficiency can harm the immune system’s ability to deal with an infection. Zinc supports the function and proliferation of various immune cells. You can include zinc food sources by including meat, egg yolks, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, seeds and oats as a therapeutic intervention. Since zinc is so essential, a supplement may be helpful where extra immune support is required. However, it should be noted that if you regularly take a zinc supplement, it is crucial to balance this with copper. Excess zinc intake can cause copper deficiency and vice versa.
Selenium is a vital antioxidant and important for the immune system as it protects the immune system by preventing free radicals that can damage the body. It is thought that selenium deficiency may be linked to a host of viral outbreaks, including new strains of influenza. Therefore, it is essential to ensure we provide our body with adequate amounts. Selenium can be obtained through the diet by consuming brazil nuts, broccoli, brown rice, chicken, salmon and whole grains. A supplement may be of particular use at this current time to ensure optimal levels.