What are the best vitamins and minerals to take for the immune system?
The immune system is a complex defence mechanism, and keeping it in good health is essential. There are several ways to support the immune system. A healthy, balanced diet can provide all the nutrients for immune health. Adequate sleep, regular exercise and time spent outside are also essential for a healthy immune system. However, it can sometimes be challenging to meet your nutrient requirements daily; this is where supplements can come in handy.
We discuss the most important vitamins for the immune system and how they contribute to immune function. We also help you choose the best vitamin supplement for the immune system.
Vitamin C for the immune system
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is essential because we can’t synthesise it ourselves. Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruit, peppers and green vegetables. Vitamin C is a cofactor for fifteen different enzymes and is essential for the innate and adaptive immune response. Vitamin C is necessary for primary immune defence, helps immune cells do their job; it also supports immune cell function. Finally, vitamin C helps protect the cells from oxidative stress.
Severe vitamin C deficiency has been associated with immune function impairments. This highlights the importance of adequate vitamin C levels daily. A vitamin C deficiency can be more common in individuals with a limited diet; these individuals may want to consider supplementation. Athletes can also benefit from vitamin C supplementation since immune function is suppressed for several hours after intense exercise. This effect can be reduced through high-dosage supplementation with vitamin C (200mg above RDA).
Vitamin C supplements are a convenient way to ensure you get an adequate amount daily, even for non-deficient individuals. Read more about finding the best vitamin C supplement here.
Vitamin D for the immune system
Another vitamin that contributes to maintaining normal immune function is vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D can be synthesised in the skin with exposure to sunlight, or it can be obtained from the diet. Good sources of vitamin D are cod liver oil and fatty fish. Vitamin D2 is available in mushrooms, yeasts and other fungi, but this form of vitamin D is less potent than vitamin D3.
Vitamin D is involved in the regulation of the immune response. Immune system inhibition is just as crucial as immune activation because an overactive immune system may increase the risk of immune-mediated disorders. Interestingly, the action of vitamin D on the immune system is self-regulating because immune cells can activate vitamin D.
Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiencies are common in the UK due to the high latitude (short winter days) and the increase in indoor lifestyles. Skin melanin concentration and diet can also contribute to low vitamin D levels. Darker skin synthesises less vitamin D3, while vegan diets lack good sources of vitamin D3 without supplementation or fortified foods.
Supplements can be a great way to ensure you get adequate amounts of vitamin D3, especially in the winter months.
Zinc for the immune system
We cannot synthesise zinc in the body, and we require it for over 300 enzymes. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, crustaceans and red meat. Zinc is essential for many functions, including DNA synthesis, metabolism, cognitive function and the immune system. Zinc is indirectly involved in immune cell activity. Zinc deficiency has been linked to immune impairments. Zinc also directly affects the function of immune cells called leucocytes.
Zinc supplementation is essential for those with limiting diets; vegans may struggle to find adequate sources of zinc in their diets. However, deciding to supplement with zinc is not always straightforward. First, consult a healthcare professional to diagnose a zinc deficiency. Taking additional zinc when you are not deficient can deplete the body of copper. Copper and zinc are antagonists meaning it is essential to balance both minerals.
Other vitamins and minerals to take for the immune system
Other nutrients are essential for immune function, including vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, copper and selenium. Here we discuss the role and benefit of each vitamin.
- Vitamin B12 is vital for the function of immune cells. You can obtain vitamin B12 from red meat, and it is difficult to get on a vegan diet without supplementation.
- Vitamin B6 plays a crucial role in the production of immune cells. B6 can be found in beef liver, fatty fish or pulses.
- Folate or folic acid is essential for amino acid synthesis and the reduction of tiredness and fatigue. A folate deficiency particularly impacts immune function. Folate is present in dark leafy greens, pulses, nuts and seeds.
- Copper deficiencies are linked with immune function impairments. This mineral can be found in seafood, meat and various vegetables.
- Selenium is essential for initiating the immune response; it is an important immune regulator. Brazil nuts are rich in selenium.
Choosing the best vitamin supplement for immune support
Look for a supplement that contains a balance of immune-supporting nutrients. Particularly look out for vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D3, but other ingredients to consider are copper (particularly if you are taking zinc), vitamin B12, B6, selenium and folate.
Next, choose your supplement formula. Vitamin tablets can be convenient but may contain small doses. These also contain fillers, binders and casing. Instead, choose a powdered supplement to get the most out of the ingredients.
Our powdered immunity supplement contains 25 active ingredients to support immunity, energy, muscle and cognitive function. High-quality ingredients include vitamin C, D3, zinc, B vitamins, and amino acids, and each daily supplement sachet is perfectly formulated to contain adequate nutrients for immune health.
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What to read next
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- Vitamin C physiology: the known and the unknown and Goldilocks
- Vitamin C and the Immune System
- Nutritional strategies to counter stress to the immune system in athletes, with special reference to football
- Exercise and the Immune System
- Vitamin D: modulator of the immune system
- Vitamin D2 Is Much Less Effective than Vitamin D3 in Humans
- Vitamin D and the Immune System
- Autoimmune Diseases
- UK Statistics On Vitamin & Mineral Deficiency 2021
- 9 things that can undermine your vitamin D level
- Zinc and the immune system
- Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells
- Immunomodulation by vitamin B12: augmentation of CD8+ T lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cell activity in vitamin B12-deficient patients by methyl-B12 treatment
- Vitamin B6 in Health and Disease
- Folate status and the immune system
- Copper and immunity
- The Role of Selenium in Inflammation and Immunity: From Molecular Mechanisms to Therapeutic Opportunities