Top Five Vitamins and Minerals for a Healthy Immune System
Many of us faithfully begin or end each day with the best multivitamin supplement we can find, hoping to fill any dietary gaps to ensure the best possible health. We may not know exactly how they work, but we’ve been told our entire lives that vitamin C will help to keep you from getting a cold, B vitamins give you energy, our blood needs iron, and our bones need calcium. We gamely swallow our daily vitamin and mineral supplements and hope for the best.
But exactly how do these vitamins and minerals keep us from getting sick? Which vitamins should we be choosing to give our immune systems a healthy boost?
Your Mom was Right About Vitamin C
When your mother gave you those little orange-flavored chewable vitamin C tablets at the first sign of a sniffle, she knew what she was talking about. Vitamin C is the ultimate immune system enhancer. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that’s essential in the human diet for good health. Because our bodies can’t produce vitamin C, it’s necessary for us to ingest it in our diets. As sailors and pirates of the past soon realized, without adequate vitamin C intake, they soon became sick. A diet without vitamin C will result in scurvy, which includes weakness, bleeding gums, sore joints, and a multitude of other unpleasant symptoms including growing corkscrew hairs.
Vitamin C is necessary for the repair and maintenance of healthy skin, hair, and bones. It is a powerful antioxidant that goes to work on a cellular level to fight damaging free-radicals that cause signs of aging and more serious problems such as cancer. It also gives our immune system a serious boost by supporting cell function in our immune response. According to research, supplementing with vitamin C can prevent and treat respiratory illnesses and shorten the duration of the common cold.
Vitamin C is found naturally in a variety of plant foods, such as citrus, strawberries, beans, and spinach. That glass of orange juice in the morning can give your immune system a healthy boost to protect you from common illnesses.
Vitamin C is also found in apples, making the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” an old wives’ tale that happens to have some real truth behind it.
Valuable Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is necessary to support essential biochemical reactions in our immune systems. It has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Being low in vitamin B6 can impact our body’s ability to produce antibodies which are essential for fighting illnesses.
Vitamin B6 is also necessary for producing white blood cells that are needed for fighting bacterial infections. It helps the body produce the protein Interleukin-2 which helps to direct white blood cells in their attack against infection. So, essentially it helps produce the body’s defenders and tells them where to go to battle against the enemy that’s causing illness.
Vitamin B6 has also been found to aid in the body’s production of T cells which regulate immune function and help our immune system to respond appropriately to invaders such as viruses and infectious bacteria.
Vitamin B6 is found in chicken, cold-water fish, and green vegetables. Chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, is especially rich in vitamin B6.
Vitamin E for Immunity
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for immune function. Vitamin E helps the body fight off both viruses and bacteria. It is a powerhouse antioxidant to fight harmful free radicals and protect the cells from oxidative stress. Studies have shown that supplementing with vitamin E can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cataracts. It has been found to be a critical component of a good functioning immune system. It is also important for healthy skin and eyes. As a part of over 200 biochemical reactions in the human body, vitamin E is critical for our health, including fighting infection. Our body’s ability to store vitamin E may be lessened with age, making supplementation especially beneficial for the elderly.
Vitamin E is found in many nuts and seeds, including almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. It’s also found in avocados, wheat germ oil, salmon, trout, and mangoes.
Vitamin A is very beneficial for healthy eyesight, and studies show that it’s also an important vitamin for our immune systems. Vitamin A packs a powerful punch of antioxidants to fight free radicals in our cells. Free radicals cause damage that can impact health in many ways.
Vitamin A is also a natural anti-inflammatory which can help prime our immune system and enhance immune response to illnesses.
Unlike other vitamins that aid in immunity in many ways, vitamin A has a very specific function in our cells and activates the important T-cells for our immune system to trigger the anti-inflammatory responses that are essential for fighting illnesses.
Vitamin A is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, cantelope, red bell peppers, spinach, broccoli, apricots, tomatoes, beef liver, and more.
Iron and Immunity
Iron is a critical mineral in the human diet for many reasons. Studies show that being deficient in iron can cause anemia which then results in a compromised immune system. With iron deficient anemia, a lack of red blood cells means less oxygenation of organs and tissues. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the lymph nodes which are key in fighting localized and systemic infections in the body. This impacts the immune response by limiting lymphocyte production and proliferation in the body, making it less able to fight infection.
Iron deficient anemia also means less oxygenated blood in the spleen, which is an organ that helps to fight infection.
Because red blood cells are so necessary to carry oxygen to our organs, when they are lacking in the body due to severe iron deficiency our most important organs will receive the most oxygen to ensure our survival. Because of this, we may find thinning hair, and dry, dull skin. We may be less able to heal after an injury and be more prone to infections.
Iron-rich foods include liver, shellfish, spinach, legumes, pumpkin seeds, and red meat.
While having a well-balanced diet that’s naturally rich in vitamins and minerals is the best way to ensure a healthy immune system, vitamin supplements can help to fill any dietary gaps and keep our immune systems functioning at their finest.