How do vitamins support your immune system?
- Vitamins and minerals may play a role in supporting the immune system.
- Vitamin B12 and iron deficiencies are common.
- Vitamin D deficiency is common in the winter months as we get most of our vitamin D through sun exposure.
- Not all vitamin deficiencies may need supplements to support immune system health.
Everyone wants to support immune health. They might desire a quick fix that will bolster their defences against any bugs that come their way. But is this a reality?
According to GP, Dr Jill Gamberg, your diet and lifestyle are the primary ways you can influence your immune health.
“There is some evidence that taking a supplement prevents you from getting a cold or flu,” explains Dr Jill. “Of course, if you have genuine vitamin or mineral deficiencies, this may cause your immune system to function less effectively. In this case, diagnosed deficiencies may benefit from appropriate supplementation.”
While vitamins for immune system health may not be as straightforward as buying a bottle of multivitamin supplements, it’s still important to have the facts about immune supportive vitamins.
Vitamins for immune system health
Here’s an interesting fact about the immune system for you. There are specific micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, that may play a role in immune system health.
These include vitamins A, D, C, E, B6 and B12 as well as folate, zinc, iron, copper and selenium. Each of these plays an important role at every stage of the body’s immune response. And, you should try to have enough of them in your diet.
So, what are the top immune support vitamins for adults? While there aren’t really any 'best' vitamins for immune system health – they’re all important – here are three you should know about.
Dr Jill says that in general practice, it’s common to see vitamin B12 deficiency.
“Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, dairy, eggs and even in nutritional yeast. Often people will come in and complain of feeling a bit tired or a bit off. Blood tests might reveal they are deficient in vitamin B12,” she says. “This is more common in people who eat a strictly plant-based or vegan diet.”
Why is vitamin B12 so important for the immune system? Research has found that it plays an important role in a healthy and balanced immune system. When you don’t have enough of it, your immune system may be impacted.
Another vitamin that Dr Jill suggests is important to talk about is vitamin D.
“We don’t get very much vitamin D in our diet,” explains Dr Jill, “You can get a little bit from foods like mushrooms or fatty fish like sardines, but the main source is through sun exposure. It’s a balance between getting enough sun so you have adequate vitamin D and protecting your skin through slip, slop, slap measures.”
Research on vitamin D immune system benefits have shown that it may have a modulatory effect. That is to say, it may help to enhance both the innate and adaptive immune system.
Since the effects of exercise on the immune system are documented, there may be benefits to undertaking your exercise in the sunshine!
Fun fact: You can give your mushrooms a supercharged dose of vitamin D by popping them in the sun for 15 minutes. Sun safe and delicious!
What does vitamin C do for the immune system? It plays a role in both the innate (i.e., the first line of immune defence) and adaptive (or acquired) immune system. It may help to shorten wound healing time and may even prevent infections.
Probably the most well-known source of vitamin C is in citrus fruits such as oranges. You’ll also find it in broccoli, kiwifruit, capsicum, and tomatoes. Vitamin C deficiency is now rare with a balanced diet including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
It’s not just about supplements
Dr Jill is careful to note that not all vitamin deficiencies may need supplements to support the immune system. It may require further investigation to determine the underlying cause.
“It’s important to speak with your healthcare provider as they will take a deeper look at what is causing your deficiency. It may be a symptom of another condition. Or it could be that a particular medication you’re taking is affecting your absorption of the vitamin or mineral. It’s not always about turning to supplements to fix a problem,” Dr Jill explains.
Stress and the immune system is a good comparison. If you are suffering from stress, you may need to deal with the underlying causes of the stress before you can start to see an improvement. What affects your immune system may be bigger than what it appears to be on the surface.
There’s so much more to the immune system
Do you know which herbs are adaptogens and the effects they can have on your body? Or what about the gluten free diet immune system impacts?
Vitamins and the immune system are just one tiny part of the fascinating ways in which the immune system works.
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Dr Jill Gamberg is a General Practitioner and one of the first Australian Lifestyle Medicine Physicians whose goal is to help prevent disease and maintain wellness with evidence-based practice, and to passionately improve health literacy.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board September 2021.