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Vitamins and supplements to boost your immune sytem

16-03-2016

Are You Getting the Right Vitamins for an Immune System Boost?

If you’re interested in giving your body a bit of a boost, you may have been browsing the different types of food supplements that are available, which can help to ensure you’re meeting your nutritional goals. Something you may have noticed is that multivitamins for the immune system are becoming increasingly popular, but how do these differ from standard multivitamins, and how can they keep the immune system working optimally, helping us to fight off all those unpleasant little bugs that can take us out of action?

There’s a good deal of crossover between ‘regular’ multivitamins, and vitamins for the immune system. This is because many vitamins perform a number of different functions within the body. Vitamin D, for example, can help to keep our bones healthy and strong [1], and it’s also believed to help prepare T-cells (a type of immune cell) for fighting off infection [2]. However, there are also vitamins and minerals that play a unique role within immune system health, which is why these supplements can often be a better choice for those looking to ward off mild yet frustrating infections and viruses, like the common cold.

Selenium

The British Nutrition Foundation reports that the element selenium is essential for boosting and maintaining immune system health [3]. Its powerful antioxidant properties help to protect and repair damaged cells, so that they’re always ready and able to produce an effective immune response when needed. The recommended daily intake for men is 75 micrograms per day, and 60 micrograms for women, but it's believed that many of us are not reaching our targets.

Daily intake of selenium dropped from an average of 60 micrograms back in the 1970s, to just 39 micrograms in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the UK reduced its imports of high-selenium wheat from the United States. Although selenium is found in many foods, such as Brazil nuts, mackerel, and beef, we’re only able to absorb around 80 percent of selenium from food sources, which is why taking selenium supplements is important.

Zinc

Like selenium, zinc is also essential for ensuring that the immune system is up to the job of fighting off infection. Studies have found that people who are zinc deficient often have low production of interferons (IFNs) [4], which stimulate the immune system to respond to infections, and work to inhibit the spread of viruses throughout the body. In fact, zinc has been found to shorten the length of a common cold by two or three days [5], so you’re back on your feet and feeling like your old self more quickly.

Depending on age, men should be aiming for between 5.5 - 9.5 mg of zinc per day, while women should be aiming for 4.0 to 7.0 mg per day, according to the NHS [6]. However, the Proprietary Association of Great Britain estimates that around 10 percent of men, and 5 percent of women, are failing to meet these targets [7], leaving them vulnerable to infection, which is why supplementation is essential.

References:

[1] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-D.aspx

[2] http://www.nhs.uk/news/2010/03March/Pages/Vitamin-D-and-the-immune-system.aspx

[3] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/attachments/145_Selenium%20and%20health.pdf

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9823012

[5] http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/05may/Pages/Zinc-shortens-common-cold.aspx

[6] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Other-vitamins-minerals.aspx#zinc

[7] http://www.pagb.co.uk/publications/pdfs/towardsahealthierbritain2010.pdf