Vitamins For Immune System Adults

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In this fast-paced era of technological advancements, it's no surprise that we find ourselves inundated with a relentless stream of "superfoods" and wonder supplements promising to revolutionise our health. Like a never-ending carousel of information, we often feel perplexed and overwhelmed. In this article, we're diving deep into the world of vitamins, exploring their impacts on our well-being and how to incorporate them into our daily meals.

What are vitamins and minerals?

Vitamins and minerals – we've all heard of their importance, but do you know what they are? These are micronutrients essential for our bodies, but here's the catch: we can't produce them on our own because our diet plays a crucial role in maintaining their levels. (Except for vitamin D, which our bodies cleverly get from sunlight!) Compared to the macronutrients like carbs, proteins, and fats that dominate our meals, vitamins and minerals are needed in much smaller quantities.3 Don't let their size fool you, though, because their impact on our health is enormous!

Let's start with vitamins. These organic substances can be classified into two categories: fat-soluble and water-soluble. The fat-soluble ones find a cosy spot in our body, usually hanging out in the liver and fatty tissues. On the flip side, water-soluble vitamins need water's helping hand to get absorbed, and because of that, they can't stick around for long, demanding regular replenishment. Now, onto minerals – they are elements found in soil and water. Plants absorb them, animals consume those plants, and that's how these essential nutrients make their way into our diet.1

The immune system: your body's shield

Maintaining a diverse and well-balanced diet is not just a matter of personal preference; it is crucial for ensuring optimal health, especially when facing illnesses. Extensive research has demonstrated that poorly nourished individuals are more susceptible to various infections and are likely to experience the adverse effects of chronic or severe conditions, leading to nutritional deficits and further compromising their immune response.

Our body's immune system acts as a shield, protecting us from infections caused by pesky organisms like bacteria and viruses. This defence mechanism has two main components: innate and adaptive/acquired immunity.5

Innate immunity kicks into action as the initial response to harmful invaders. It's a non-specific defence, relying on physical deterrents like mucus in the nose and throat, which trap these unwanted organisms, or stomach acid, which aids in their destruction.

On the other hand, the adaptive response is specific to the foreign intruder. This involves an intricate network of immune cells, some of which produce specialised proteins called antibodies. These incredible antibodies play a crucial role in combating infections, giving our body an upper hand in the battle against sickness6.So, the next time you nourish your body with a well-rounded diet, you're satisfying your taste buds and fortifying your immune system to stand firm against potential threats.

A balanced meal for immune health

A classic and balanced meal should encompass various nutrient-dense foods, including abundant colourful fruits and vegetables that provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Whole grains, nuts, and legumes offer a wealth of fibre, protein, and healthy fats, contributing to overall wellness. Additionally, moderate consumption of fish and dairy can supply crucial nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and calcium, while limiting the intake of red meats, refined carbohydrates, and sugar helps to maintain a healthy balance. It is also recommended that any added fats should be included via liquid oils such as olive, canola or soybean oil. However, it should be noted that no individual foods will provide the ultimate protection variety is vital.2

On the other hand, it is essential to be aware that diets lacking variety and predominantly consisting of highly processed foods can have a significantly negative impact on our immune system. While our bodies are incredibly resilient, subjecting them to a monotonous, nutrient-deficient diet can affect our overall health and well-being. The consequences of such diets reach beyond merely feeling unenergetic or lethargic – they can directly compromise our immune response, leaving us more vulnerable to infections and illnesses. You've probably heard about the importance of maintaining healthy gut flora levels, and the truth is that our diet plays a profound role in determining the types of microbes that reside in our intestines. When we don't consume enough fruits and vegetables, the natural balance of intestinal microorganisms can be disrupted, leading to potential disturbances in our immune system. These effects can then compound, suppressing our body's ability to defend itself effectively against harmful pathogens.2

What can supplements do for us?

When the common cold pays us an unwelcome visit, we often take supplements like zinc, vitamin C, and echinacea for extra support. Let's explore how these supplements might lend a helping hand during those sniffly days.

Zinc, available in oral forms like lozenges, tablets, and syrup, as well as intranasal formulations like swabs and gels, has been a subject of interest in treating colds.4 When taken orally within 24 hours after symptoms start, zinc has shown promise in reducing the duration of colds, according to a 2015 analysis of clinical trials. However, being cautious about potential side effects and interactions with medications is essential. Oral zinc can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, and prolonged high-dose 

use may result in copper deficiency. Additionally, intranasal zinc has been associated with a severe side effect of irreversible loss of the sense of smell, and its use should be avoided.7

Vitamin C, often touted as a remedy for colds, might not prevent them entirely but could offer modest benefits in reducing the severity and length of cold symptoms, based on a 2013 review of scientific literature. However, regular vitamin C did not decrease the likelihood of catching a cold. It did not show significant symptom improvements when used as a post-cold treatment. Although generally considered safe, high doses of vitamin C may cause digestive disturbances such as diarrhoea and nausea. 

Echinacea, an herbal supplement popular for cold treatment and prevention, lacks concrete evidence to support its effectiveness. Research on echinacea has yielded mixed results, with some preparations showing limited promise in treating colds in adults while others seem ineffective. Its ability to reduce the number of colds in adults remains inconclusive, and there's little research conducted on children. While few side effects have been reported in clinical trials, it's essential to be aware of the potential risk of allergic reactions, and one study found an increased risk of rashes in children who took echinacea.

In conclusion, while zinc, vitamin C, and echinacea are frequently sought as cold remedies, it's crucial to approach their usage cautiously. Each supplement has its benefits and limitations, and individuals should be mindful of potential side effects and interactions with medications. For anyone considering these supplements, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure safe and informed choices. And while supplements can offer some support during the cold season, they won't work miracles. A balanced diet, regular exercise, and an overall healthy lifestyle remain the foundation of a healthy immune system.

Handy guide

* Fat soluble will not require constant replenishment. Water soluble does.

A healthy immune system is a cornerstone of overall well-being. Vitamins are pivotal in supporting the immune system but are just one piece of the puzzle. Combining a balanced diet, regular exercise, stress management, quality sleep, and other healthy lifestyle practices can enhance your immune defence and reduce the risk of infections and illnesses. Remember that safety is paramount regarding vitamin intake and seeking professional advice from healthcare providers ensures a personalised approach to immune health.

Summary

Vitamins and minerals, essential micronutrients, play a critical role in supporting our immune system. They come in two forms: fat-soluble, stored in our body, and water-soluble, requiring regular intake. A balanced diet, rich in various foods, fortifies our immune defenses, whereas a processed food-heavy diet can weaken them. Popular supplements like zinc, vitamin C, and echinacea offer some cold relief, but their efficacy varies. Overall, a healthy lifestyle, paired with a nutritious diet, remains the best strategy for strong immunity.

References

  1. British Nutrition Foundation. Vitamins and minerals - British Nutrition Foundation [Internet]. www.nutrition.org.uk. 2021. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthy-sustainable-diets/vitamins-and-minerals/?level=Consumer
  2. Boston 677 HA, Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. Nutrition and Immunity [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2020. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/nutrition-and-immunity/#:~:text=Each%20stage%20of%20the%20body
  3. Harvard. Vitamins [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2019. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamins/
  4. Ask the Expert: The role of diet and nutritional supplements during COVID-19 [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2020. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2020/04/01/ask-the-expert-the-role-of-diet-and-nutritional-supplements-during-covid-19/
  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. The Immune System [Internet]. John Hopkins Medicine. 2019. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/the-immune-system
  6. NHS Choices. Vitamin E - Vitamins and minerals [Internet]. NHS. 2019. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-e/
  7. 5 Tips: Natural Products for the Flu and Colds: What Does the Science Say? [Internet]. NCCIH. Available from: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/tips-natural-products-for-the-flu-and-colds-what-does-the-science-say

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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