Last week, we looked at the terminology around ‘boosting’ the immune system. We looked at how I prefer to use the terms ‘optimising’ and ‘support’. Today’s blog we’re going to dive a deeper in the nutrients commonly used in immune support.
One thing that’s interesting and important to remember is, some nutrients act to support our physical immune barriers, whilst others are used to optimise the function of the cells in our immune system. The vitamins, minerals, and functional foods required sustain immunocompetence we are going to look at are: Vitamins A, C, D, Zinc.and Probiotics.
Not the first vitamin that many of us reach for in immune support! Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps both our innate and adaptive immunity. It’s required in the maintenance of the structural and functional integrity of mucosal cells that line the eyes, respiratory, gastrointestinal and genitourinary systems. By being part of the barrier protection against pathogens, Vitamin A helps to optimise our innate immunity.
Vitamin A also helps to support our cellular immune response, as it is part of our antigen specific antibody responses to pathogens. This means it helps the bpdy to recognise the ‘good guys’ from the ‘bad.’.
Most of us are quick to think of Vitamin C the minute we are feeling a bit under the weather. Vitamin C is essential for immune support as it helps to increase our very own army against infections. Vitamin C helps to increase the activity of our T-cells, natural-killer (NK) cells, and phagocytes. Our T-cells help to round up our defence system, whilst other cells help to destroy our infected cells; Likewise, with a name like Natural Killer cells, our NK cells will attach themselves to a targeted cell and damage and destroy it. As our bodies can’t store Vitamin C for periods of time, it’s important to eat our bright fruits and vegetables every day!
The sunshine vitamin! Many of us think of Vitamin D for bone health, which is correct but it does so mnuch more. Vitamin D plays an important part in the innate antimicrobial response. Like Vitamin A, Vitamin D is a fat-soulable vitamin. Unlike Vitamin A, however, our bodies can make Vitamin D.
When we eat the precursors to Vitamin D, such as 7-dehydrocholesterol, and when exposed to sunlight, we can produce Vitamin D on our skin. Unfortunately for us in Australia it can be hard for us to get the optimal amount of Vitamin D required. This is due to our distance from the equiator, our “slip, slop, slap; routines, and the angle of the sun during winter. Even during this time of limited interaction and outings due to COCIVD-19, it’s important to get sunshine everryday!
One of my favourite minerals for immune support. Zinc is essential for the growth, development, differentiation, and death of cells. This includes those that are part of the immune system defence army, our NK cells, neutrophils, and T-lymphocytes. This makes zinc important in both our innate and adaptive immunity.
As you’ve already read, barrier protection is a major part of our immune system. We have mucosal layers that line not just our guts and GI tratc, but also our respiratory system. This mucousal layers hosts vast percentage of the body’s immune cells. This is why naturopath are so obsessed with gut health, even when we talk about immune health!
In this case, probiotics assist in innate immunity; however, new research is finding that Probiotics stimulate predication of antibodies and T-lymphocytes, making it part of our adaprtive immunity too.
So there you have it, five top nutrientts to consider in making your immune system run like a little red Mazda. How can you be sure you’re getting these vitamins, minerals, and functionmal foods? By eating a variety of fresh, wholefoods everyday.
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- NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, New Zealand Ministry of Health. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. (Revised Edition 1.2) Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council; 2006. P 51
- ASCIA. Immune system explained. Victoria Government. c2020
- Wu D. et al. Nutritional modulation of immune function: Analysis of evidence, mechanisms, and clinical relevance, Front Immunol 2019; 9 3160
- Paxton, F. (2015) Foundations of naturopathic nutrition. Allen & Unwin. Crows Nest, NSW
- Carr A. and Maggini S. (2017). Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients, 9(11), 1211.
- Braun, L. Cohen, M. (2005) Herbs and natural supplements. Elsevier. Marrickville, NSW.
- Hechtman, L. (2012) Clinical naturopathic medicine. Elsevier. Chatswood, NSW.
- Drake V. Immunity in depth. Linus Pauling Inst. Oregon State University.c2010-2020
- Jenna Verhoeven
- immune, immune health, nutrients, vitamins