A healthy immune system is the body’s first line of defense against microorganisms that can cause disease, so it is important to keep it strong and healthy. As the immune system is not a single unit, but a complex group of components, this can sometimes be a challenging dance requiring balance and harmony. There is still a lot to learn about how to naturally support the immune system, but there are strategies that one can adopt to give the immune system a boost naturally.
Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
Make healthy choices. Don’t smoke cigarettes, use alcohol in moderation, and eat a diet composed of fresh produce, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Make sure to exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, keep blood pressure under control and get a sufficient amount of sleep.
If your diet is occasionally lacking in some nutritional components, a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement can be helpful. Here are several specific vitamins, minerals and other supplements that may be promising for their potential effect on immune system support.
Vitamin A – Low levels of vitamin A have been linked with reduced immunity and an increased risk for infection. However, one study found that supplementation with vitamin A without a deficiency had no effect on T cell immunity in a healthy group of older adults.
Vitamin B6 – Research suggests that deficiencies in vitamin B6 can weaken immunity. Supplementation with moderate doses of B6 can restore immune function, but large doses provide no added benefit.
Vitamin C - Scientists have examined immune-boosting effects of vitamin C, but many of the studies have been poorly designed. It has been suggested however, that vitamin C combined with other nutrients may provide health benefits.
Vitamin D – Since it can be manufactured by the body with exposure to sunlight, this vitamin is really a hormone. Researchers have found that vitamin D signals an antimicrobial response to mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium responsible for TB. Whether vitamin D has similar ability to fight off other diseases will be determined with further research.
Vitamin E – Research involving healthy individuals over age 65 has shown that an increase in vitamin E from 30 mg (RDA) to 200 mg raises post-vaccination antibody responses to hepatitis B and tetanus. However, these responses did not occur following the administration of diphtheria and pneumococcal vaccines.
Selenium - Some studies have linked low selenium levels with a greater risk of bladder, breast, colon, lung and prostate cancers. A comprehensive, multiyear study is currently under way which is examining whether a combination of selenium and vitamin E might aid in the prevention of prostate cancer.
Zinc - This is a trace element that is essential for immune function. Low levels of zinc affect the ability of T cells to properly function. A word of caution: an adequate amount of zinc varies from 15–25 mg per day, but too much can lower immune response.
Garlic - In laboratory tests garlic has proved successful in fighting bacteria, viruses and fungi, but there haven’t been enough human studies conducted to know whether this benefits people. One 2006 study on consumption of garlic and onion in southern European populations found a link between the frequency of garlic and onion consumption and a lower risk of some cancers.
Probiotics – The human gut is full of different types of “good” bacteria which aid in digestion. Researchers are finding evidence of a link between these bacteria and the immune system. It is now known that certain bacteria in the gut influence the development of the immune system resulting in an increase in certain T cells.
Probiotics like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are beneficial bacteria that have been added to many dairy products, beverages, cereals and energy bars. Unfortunately, a direct connection between consumption of these products and improved immune response has not yet been made. Nor is it known if taking probiotics will replenish good bacteria destroyed through the consumption of antibiotics.
More research is needed regarding the effects of various micronutrients on the immune system. In the meantime, it is wise to maintain a healthy lifestyle and take a daily vitamin and mineral supplement.
What steps do you take to ensure that your immune system is healthy?