Our bodies require various vitamins and minerals to support the immune systems, especially during periods when it experiences heightened demands to ward off cold and flu viruses and other infections.
While a healthful and wholesome diet should provide most of these nutrients, we can sometimes experience shortfalls or deficiencies or may require extra vitamins and minerals beyond levels that our diet can adequately provide.
There are many beneficial nutrients that support immunity, most of which you can find in standalone supplement form. The more common products include vitamin C, zinc and vitamin D3, among others.
However, buying each nutrient individually isn’t always cost-effective and taking multiple products every morning isn’t always practical.
Thankfully, supplement manufacturers have taken the complexity out of immune support. Comprehensive complexes that combine various vitamins and minerals proven to support immune system health and function offer a convenient and effective means to meet your nutritional demands, especially during cold and flu season.
For example, Biogen Immuno Boost Powder contains various ingredients that can rebuild and strengthen the immune system. The formulation includes a blend of essential vitamins and minerals, including zinc and vitamin C, to fight free radical damage and support immune cells. Added vitamin D3 helps to combat inflammation, boost immune cell production and aids calcium absorption, which is vital for optimal immune cell function.
Other available products may contain formulations that combine these nutrients with various active ingredients to provide additional support. For example, NPL Immune Pro+ contains natural active ingredients such as echinacea, and olive leaf and grape seed extracts, which work synergistically to build and sustain a healthy immune system.
These all-in-one solutions ensure you cover the vitamin, mineral and active ingredient spectrum in one convenient daily serving. They are also available in pills, powders or effervescent tablets to suit any preference.
When shopping for a nutritional supplement to support your immunity, look for complexes that contain some or all of the following ingredients in the formulation. Always consult your doctor for the most appropriate individualised advice, or speak to a Dis-Chem pharmacist for more information about suitable off-the-shelf products.
Vitamin D supports the immune system via its role as an immune-modulator – a chemical agent that modifies the immune response or how the immune system functions.
Within the immune system, vitamin D reduces levels of inflammatory proteins called cytokines. It also plays a role in increasing levels of antimicrobial proteins such as B lymphocytes and killer T cells that destroy invading germs and viruses.
These cells contain vitamin D receptors and synthesise the active form of vitamin D called calcitriol (vitamin D3). This means that vitamin D plays a vital role in modulating the adaptive immune system’s response to infections.
Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that vitamin D plays an important role in our innate immunity – the immediate, non-specific immune defence system. More generally, vitamin D has been linked to a decrease in both a person’s susceptibility to and the duration of common infections, including the flu.
An efficacious vitamin D supplement can help to compensate for a lack of exposure to natural sunlight during winter as we cover up or spend more time indoors.
Vitamins B6 and B12 – two of eight vitamins that constitute the B-vitamin group – aid optimal immunity because they are involved in numerous internal biochemical reactions related to optimal immune function.
The body also requires sufficient amounts of all B vitamins to produce various cells involved in the immune response.
The full spectrum of B vitamins play a central role in energy production, which is vital when your body is fighting off an infection.
Among its numerous functions, vitamin A protects epithelium and mucus integrity in the body, which serve as our primary physical barriers against possible infection.
This micronutrient is also vital for developing immune system strength and function as it regulates immune cell and antibody responses.
In addition, vitamin A works synergistically with vitamin D across specific functions to boost immunity.
Immune cells require vitamin C to protect them from free radical damage. Certain immune cells also require vitamin C to function optimally.
As such, this vitamin is highly concentrated in immune cells and is consumed quickly during an infection.
And the body cannot synthesise vitamin C, which means we need to get sufficient amounts from the food we eat and from supplements when potential shortfalls or deficiencies may exist. Studies show that vitamin C can also reduce the severity and duration of colds.
The concentration of vitamin E in white blood cells is 10-20 times that found in red blood cells, which indicates its relative importance to these immune cells.
Vitamin E boosts immune cell production, including the B-cells that produce antibodies to destroy bacteria. And like its C counterpart, vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant, protecting immune cells from damage by free radicals.
Other antioxidants that support immune system function include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and selenium.
Beta-carotene supports immune cell activity in the body, with research showing that beta-carotene supplementation can increase base levels of T-lymphocytes and immune system natural killer cells.
Selenium functions in synergy with vitamin E as an antioxidant. Studies show that insufficient selenium can compromise vitamin E’s effect on immunity. Some studies demonstrate as much as a 400% increase in immune strength as a result of selenium supplementation.
Zinc functions as a co-factor for important enzymatic reactions involved in the antioxidant defence system. And studies link zinc deficiency with a decline in lymphocyte function, which compromises immunity.
Furthermore, a systematic review by researchers from The Cochrane Collaboration showed that taking zinc reduces both the duration and severity of symptoms from the common cold.
A large body of research shows that Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) enhances white blood cell activity and antibody-mediated immunity by boosting antibody production. CoQ10 is also a potent antioxidant that helps to protect immune cells.
Echinacea is a natural ingredient, usually included as an extract, is proven to support the immune system by boosting white blood cell production, which can help the body fight off bacterial and viral infections.
A 2014 meta-analysis of over a dozen studies also found that this popular herbal remedy showed a benefit in preventing colds.