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Immune Support Vitamins and Minerals, and How They Work

by Veronica Hughes
Did you know your body makes 100 billion new white blood cells every day? These soldiers of the immune system can only work with certain vitamins and nutrients to power them - and they need extra when we’re ill. We explain how better nutrition might help you catch fewer colds, fight flu faster and beat the bugs altogether. 
Immune Support Vitamins and Minerals, and How They Work

Immune Support Vitamins and Minerals

Next time you shed a drop of blood, bear in mind it contains 25,000 white blood cells. These vital immune cells don't just run on Vitamin C. Your immune system can be weakened by a lack of all kinds of nutrients, from Vitamin A to Zinc and a few others you may never have heard of!

Below, we explain the most important vitamins and minerals that power our immune defences, and how to get more of them. 

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a crucial nutrient for your immune system to function, as it supports the development and maintenance of various immune cells. We’re mainly talking about white blood cells here, and there are five main types. Vitamin A is involved in helping them form and in activating each of them in a different way. It’s essential for you to form antibodies that make you develop immunity to any infection, and for you to keep immunity, so you don’t get ill with the same infection again.

As an extra defence against colds and flu, Vitamin A plays a vital role in the integrity of mucus membranes, which line your nose and lungs. It also protects the inside of your digestive system and plays a role in your defence against tummy upsets. Vitamin A also plays an important role in balancing the immune system for people with autoimmune diseases, helping to suppress excessive autoimmune reactions whilst helping the immune system remain active against harmful germs.

Food sources of vitamin A include beef and fish liver, and eggs. Vegan sources include yellow and orange vegetables and fruits. On average, 30% of the vitamin A in foods is destroyed by cooking, and it's thought smokers need more than the average amount. If you opt for a vitamin A supplement, look for a dose of 10,000 IU and don't go over that amount. 

High-strength, clean, VitaBright Vitamin A is enriched with sunflower oil to maximise absorption, delivering 10,000 IU (3,000 mcg) per serving. Our 13-month supply of 400 softgels is easy to swallow and free from lactose, soya and toxins, with no smell or aftertaste. FIND OUT MORE 

Zinc

It’s difficult to exaggerate the importance of zinc for the human immune system. There’s basically no part of our immune defences that can work properly without enough zinc, partly because it powers hundreds of the enzyme reactions that keep our bodies alive.

It is essential in the development and function of immune cells, including white blood cells and natural killer cells. Zinc also helps regulate inflammation and supports the production of antibodies, assisting the body in effectively responding to pathogens and becoming immune to infections so we don’t catch them again.
In addition, zinc helps in calming and balancing the overactive immune system that causes severe allergies and autoimmune illnesses.

Good natural sources of zinc include red meat, seafood and egg yolks. It's also found in sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Zinc is destroyed by processing food, which is one reason why some people opt for zinc supplements. If you supplement with zinc, choose a chelated version such as zinc gluconate or zinc picolinate or zinc citrate, rather than simple zinc oxide which is not so well absorbed. 

VitaBright Zinc gluconate is easily absorbed, vegan, halal, kosher and allergen free. 365 tablets in the bottle give you 25 mg of Zinc daily for a year - exceptional value for money in an easy-to-swallow tablet. FIND OUT MORE

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for a well-functioning immune system. It helps to balance immune responses so they’re strong and effective but not excessive, as this would result in too much painful inflammation and other unhelpful issues.

People with optimal levels of vitamin D are found to have fewer infections and inflammatory conditions. Vitamin D plays a role in controlling the functions of immune cells, such as T cells (a type of white blood cell involved in adaptive immunity) and macrophages (cells that engulf and digest pathogens). Additionally, vitamin D supports the production of antimicrobial peptides, which are small proteins that the body produces to help defend against various microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses.

The best natural sources of vitamin D are fish (particularly fish livers) and eggs. Many people in the UK have less than ideal levels of vitamin D, which is why vitamin D is one of the most widely used supplements. 

Vitamin E

This fat-soluble vitamin supports the activity of natural killer cells, the body’s first line of defence. These calls spring into action within minutes, as soon as you cut a finger, inhale some germs or eat something that's off. They play a crucial role in identifying and eliminating infected or abnormal cells in the body, contributing to an effective immune response. Vitamin E is also a potent antioxidant that protects cells, including immune cells, from oxidative stress. By safeguarding these cells, vitamin E helps to keep them working perfectly within the immune system.

The best source of vitamin E is wholemeal wheat. Anyone on a gluten free diet needs to take care they get enough vitamin E. It's also found in nuts and seeds, and green leafy vegetables. 

Get Vitamin E from wheat, nuts & seeds

Vitamin C

Vitamin C became famous for its role in the immune system because Linus Pauling was rewarded with a Nobel prize for discovering it. Whilst it’s important, it’s still given a bit more credit than it really deserves, because other nutrients are actually more important for immunity.

Despite this, Vitamin C is has powerful antioxidant properties, which play a key role in supporting immune health. As an antioxidant, it helps protect immune cells from damage caused by free radicals, contributing to their optimal function.
Vitamin C also supports the production and function of white blood cells, in particular boosting the function of phagocytes, which are white blood cells that engulf and destroy germs.

Whilst your normal daily requirement of vitamin C (90mg for men or 75mg for women) can come from just two oranges, your body will use 1,000mg to 2,000mg a day when actively fighting an infection, which would equal around 20 oranges. This is probably why vitamin C supplements are so popular! 

Iron

One key function of iron is its involvement in producing a type of immune cells called lymphocytes. They carry out the amazing role of remembering every infection you have had in the past so you don’t get ill from it again. When you catch any new infection, lymphocytes in your body take about four days to create antibodies specific to that infection. They cling to each and every germ like a tracking device, so the whole immune system can find and destroy it.

Iron is also essential for other parts of the immune system to work, including cytokines which control inflammation and fevers. Inflammation is important for the body’s defence, but it causes pain and needs to be kept at the right level. Iron helps keep the right balance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses, ensuring a well-coordinated immune defence.

The best sources of iron are red meat and seafood, but vegan sources include asparagus, oatmeal, beans and nuts. Iron deficiency is very common among women. Iron supplements are well known for upsetting the tummy; the form least likely to do this is iron bisglycinate. All iron supplements tend to cause the most disturbance for the first few weeks, after which the body gets used to them and the symptoms of gas and diarrhoea or constipation tend to calm down. 

VitaBright easy-to-swallow, no-taste iron tablets are optimum strength, providing 14 mg of elemental iron per tablet. You can take 1 a day for 6 months or 2 a day for 3 months. Iron Bisglycinate is a chelated form of this important nutrient, bound with amino acids to make it easier to absorb. It is much easier on the stomach than other forms such as ferrous fumarate or ferrous sulphate. FIND OUT MORE

N-acetylcysteine (NAC)

N-acetylcysteine (often shortened to NAC) is a derivative of the amino acid cysteine and is known for its antioxidant properties. NAC supports the immune system by replenishing intracellular levels of the antioxidant glutathione. This helps neutralise free radicals, reduce oxidative stress, and enhance the body's ability to combat infections. Additionally, NAC has been studied for its potential anti-inflammatory effects, further contributing to immune system support.

NAC is a popular supplement among people with colds or coughs because of its ability to dissolve thick mucus, making it easier to cough up and to clear the nose. Whilst N-acetylcysteine is formed in the body from digested protein foods, there's a limit to how fast the body can make it. In times of high demand, many people say they feel a real difference from taking NAC supplements. 

Selenium

Selenium is a crucial trace element that plays a vital role in supporting the immune system. It acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage and inflammation. Selenium is also involved in the activation of immune cells and the production of antibodies, contributing to the body's defence against infections.

You can get your full daily requirement of selenium from just two brazil nuts. If you dislike them, it's also found in wheat bran, tomatoes, onions and broccoli. 

2 Brazil nuts contain the full daily NRV of selenium

Conclusion

If you choose to boost your intake of any of the nutrients in this article, remember they will only work well if they’re part of a balanced diet and a consistent, holistic approach to your overall health.

Sources

Nutrition and the immune system, Ranjit Kumar Chandra, Cambridge University Press: 28 February 2007

Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre stage, Nature Reviews Immunology, J. Rodrigo Mora, Makoto Iwata & Ulrich H. von Andrian

Role of Vitamin A in the Immune System by Zhiyi Huang, Yu Liu, Guangying Qi, David Brand andSong Guo Zheng

Zinc and the immune system, Cambridge University Press, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society , Volume 59 , Issue 4 , November 2000

Iron in Infection and Immunity, James E. Cassat and Eric P. Skaar

Immune System (Wikipedia)

About the Author

Veronica Hughes is a writer and researcher with a lifelong passion for nutrition and healthcare. She has spearheaded a medical research charity as its CEO, been an influential committee member of National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to shape treatment guidelines for the NHS, and actively contributed to the development of Care Quality Commission treatment standards for the NHS. Her publications include newspaper articles and insightful blogs covering a spectrum of health topics, ranging from diseases and nutrition to modern healthcare and groundbreaking medical research.

by Veronica Hughes

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