The immune system is incredibly complex and has a vast array of different mechanisms in place to help protect us when seasonal bugs become more prevalent during the colder months. Nutrients have an important role to play in immune function and ensuring that we regularly keep our stores topped up is vital to support our natural defences. A healthy diet and lifestyle can usually provide what we need but sometimes additional support in the form of supplements is required. Knowing what forms and how much of these nutrients to take is incredibly important and here we discuss some of the main ones to consider.
For targeted immune support, vitamin A is best supplemented as a mix of both retinol and beta-carotene. 1500mcg (5000iu) is a safe and effective amount for most individuals. However, women who are pregnant or likely to become pregnant should not exceed 750mcg vitamin A as retinol daily. In addition, since vitamin A is fat-soluble it can become toxic in extremely large doses, so it is important to not take more than is recommended on a supplement label unless under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner.
From an immune health perspective, it is crucial to remember that regular dietary intake of vitamin C is essential as it is a water-soluble vitamin. Find out exactly how vitamin C supports immune health here. Vitamin C is used up rapidly during illness or infection and so significantly higher (gram) doses are needed to compensate for the increased metabolic demand. However, the dose may depend on the form you decide to supplement as there are several different forms of supplemental vitamin C including ascorbic acid, mineral ascorbates and time-release vitamin C. Find out about each form here to decide which is best for your needs.
Maintaining healthy vitamin D levels is important for supporting the body’s ability to fight infection. Unlike most essential nutrients, the main source of vitamin D is not food, but sunshine; our bare skin produces vitamin D when it comes into contact with the sun’s rays. So, risk of deficiency is higher during the winter months and current estimates suggest that many people are low. Everyone should supplement with a daily maintenance dose (1000-2000iu) during the cooler winter months; it is recommended however that you check your current vitamin D level to ascertain the optimal daily dose for you. If you decide to supplement, then choose vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) which is the form of vitamin D produced naturally in response to sunlight and is the preferred form.
For general immune health, it’s important to ensure that selenium levels are optimal. If choosing to supplement it is important to choose a well absorbed form such as selenomethionine which is selenium chelated to the amino acid methionine and one of the most readily absorbable forms of selenium. The daily recommended amount is 60mcg for women and 75mcg for men, but up to 200mcg can be taken for targeted support.
The body doesn’t have much ability to store zinc so it’s crucial that your daily diet supplies plenty of this immune boosting mineral. You can also take extra zinc in supplement form to keep your levels topped up and gently support your immune function - choose zinc picolinate as this form is known to be well absorbed and assimilated into the body. If you regularly take zinc in supplement form however it is important to balance this with copper, as excess zinc can cause copper deficiency and vice versa.
Find out exactly how these nutrients, and more, support immune health here.