Best Supplements for Boosting the Immune System: A Scientific Guide

best supplements for boosting the immune system

Best Supplements for Boosting the Immune System

Your immune system has an elaborate army of warriors that defend you against vicious pathogens.

It’s made up of:

  • Immune cells
  • Physical & chemical barriers
  • Antibodies

The immune system is really effective against familiar pathogens. But when it comes to brand new enemies like the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, even this intricate system can fail.

Every stage of the immune response is heavily dependent on the presence of micronutrients, including essential vitamins and trace minerals. This is where supplements come in handy.

Let’s break down some of the best supplements for boosting the immune system.

What is the Immune System?

The immune system is a collection of processes. It’s your body’s defense against viruses and infections.

A healthy immune system should be able to easily identify the existence of any possible foreign bodies, bacteria, viruses or diseases, as well as kill and get rid of anything harmful to the body.

Major components of the immune system include:

  • Bone marrow
  • Spleen
  • Lymphocytes
  • Lymph nodes
  • Leukocytes
  • Thymus

Each of these components has an important role in defending your body.

Causes of a Weakened Immune System

Overexertion

Recent research in the Journal of Sport and Health Science suggests that being physically active makes you less vulnerable to getting sick.

“Our data show that physically active people have a 40-50% reduction in the number of days they’re ill with acute respiratory infections”

David Nieman
Director of Appalachian State University Human Performance Lab

Just make sure you’re not overdoing it. Prolonged high-intensity exercise (60 minutes +) provokes an increase in stress hormones, inflammation, and oxidative stress. This is the opposite of what our bodies need when we’re trying to ward off viruses. Stay active, but keep things at a moderate intensity.

Malnutrition

“Micronutrient malnutrition” is when there are deficiencies and negative consequences on the body’s ability to combat infections. Unfortunately, micronutrient deficiencies are common worldwide, including industrialized countries. Therefore, supplements are needed to help ward off infections for those who need an immune booster.

Elderly people, children, immunocompromised people are among the high-risk populations amid COVID-19 crisis. They are also the ones that are most susceptible to micronutrient malnutrition and weak immune systems. The Harvard Medical School notes that respiratory infections (in particular pneumonia) are a leading cause of death in people aged over 65, calling for preventative micronutrient supplementations.

Best Supplements for Boosting the Immune System

Due to the recent outbreak of Coronavirus, people have been searching for ways to boost their immune system and fight off the virus.

After reviewing the literature on immune-boosting micronutrients published in the prestigious journals Nutrients and Frontiers in Immunology, we have synthesized our findings.

The best supplements for boosting the immune system are:

  • Essential Vitamins: Vitamin A, B6, B9, B12, C, D, E
  • Minerals: Zinc, Iron, Copper, Selenium
  • Probiotics

Vitamins are natural compounds that carry out important biochemical functions in the body. If their concentration is reduced due to insufficient dietary intake, there can be a number of health consequences. One that’s especially alarming is weakened immunity.

In other words, “A vitamin is a substance that makes you ill if you don’t eat it.1

1) Vitamin A

Vitamin A is known as an “anti-inflammation vitamin” due to its diverse roles in enhancing immune function.2 It is an integral part of the respiratory tract as it promotes mucus secretion. This improves barrier function against infectious disease.

    VITAMIN A & THE IMMUNE SYSTEM:

    Vitamin A is essential for the proliferation, maturation and aggregation of immune cells. Innate immune cells such as macrophages and neutrophils initiate immediate responses to an acute infection by engulfing infected cells. Vitamin A is necessary for the production of these immune cells.

After the initial immune response driven by innate immunity, adaptive immune responses mediated by T cells kick in. Vitamin A continues to be an essential player by mediating T cell production, migration and its homeostasis in ongoing immune responses.

Vitamin A deficiency is closely related to infectious disease such as tuberculosis, HIV, measles and acute pneumonia. The World Health Organization (WHO) regards vitamin A deficiency as a serious public health concern for increasing the risks of mortality from infectious diseases.3

Supplementing vitamin A has demonstrated an effective therapeutic effect and is recommended by the WHO.

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2) Vitamin B Complex

Vitamin B is not a single vitamin but consists of several different compounds including vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12. Several members play important roles in boosting immune functions, namely B6, B9 and B12.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is indispensable in the differentiation and maturation of white blood cells. Even marginal deficiency has been shown to impair antibody production, and the ability to respond to infectious challenge.4 Moderate supplementation helps to restore immunity and improve the available numbers of T cells. A higher dose supplementation has been shown to improve immune response in critically ill patients. 

Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9 is also commonly known as folate, an essential supplement for pregnant women.

It maintains and enhances natural killer cell activity as well as antibody production.4 Deficiency can lead to an overall impaired immune response.

Folate supplementation has been shown to increase innate immunity in elderly people.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is involved in fundamental metabolism in every cell of the human body, regulating DNA synthesis and T cell replication. Vitamin B12 deficiency is known to reduce immune response during viral and bacterial infections, partly by suppressing natural killer cell activity.5

Fortunately, supplementation has been shown to restore these adverse effects and are recommended amid coronavirus crisis.4

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3) Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential micronutrient that cannot be synthesized or stored by the human body. As a result, daily intake of Vitamin C from your diet or supplementation is critical.

As a cofactor for a battery of gene regulatory enzymes, Vitamin C has multifaceted functions ranging from epithelial barrier protection against pathogens to overcoming oxidative stress.6

Vitamin C deficiency is known to result in higher susceptibility to infections. In turn, infections further exhaust vitamin C due to enhanced inflammation and metabolic requirements.

A wealth of scientific studies has supported the supplementation with vitamin C to prevent and treat respiratory and systematic infections.

In a systematic review of Vitamin C and immune function, the authors concluded:

“Prophylactic prevention of infection requires dietary vitamin C intakes that provide at least adequate, if not saturating plasma levels (i.e., 100–200 mg/day), which optimize cell and tissue levels.”

If someone already has an infection, significantly higher doses of Vitamin C will be required to compensate for the increased metabolic demand imposed by inflammatory response.

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4) Vitamin D

Vitamin D3 is the most physiologically relevant form of vitamin D. It is synthesized in the skin in a process that requires sunlight. Unfortunately, many people are deficient in vitamin D due to inadequate sun exposure and require supplementation.

Vitamin D is best known for calcium and bone homeostasis. However, it also acts on both innate and adaptive immune cells, including macrophages, dendritic cells, and T & B lymphocytes.7 In fact, vitamin D was used to treat infections like tuberculosis before the advent of antibiotics.

Deficiency in vitamin D can lead to increased susceptibility to infections. A study of 19,000 subjects with lower vitamin D levels showed a higher likelihood of upper respiratory tract infection.8 Since COVID-19 is also a respiratory infectious disease, it is likely that those with lower vitamin D levels may have an immune disadvantage.

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5) Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that can protect cells from damages caused by oxidation. Notably, immune cells usually contain higher levels of vitamin E due to higher demand. There is a clear link between vitamin E deficiency and impaired immune function. Growing evidence also suggests that the current dietary guideline for vitamin E is inadequate.9

    VITAMIN E & THE IMMUNE SYSTEM:

    Supplementation has been shown to enhance proliferation of white blood cells, improve antibody levels and natural killer cell activity.10 A systematic review of scientific evidence supports the immunostimulatory effects of vitamin E in resisting infections such as pneumonia.

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6) Zinc

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that is required for both innate and adaptive immune functions. An estimate of 30% of the world’s population has zinc deficiency. These individuals are likely to have reduced white blood cell proliferation, antibody response, natural killer cell and macrophage cell activity.9

Multiple studies have shown that supplementation with zinc can effectively reverses these impairments. It can reduce respiratory tract infections and mortality from infectious diseases. Several high-quality clinical trails have shown that zinc supplementation can protect children and the elderly population from common colds and pneumonia.

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7) Copper

Copper accumulates in macrophages, the cells that engulf infectious agents. Copper also has antimicrobial properties that help destroy a range of invading microorganisms.4 In addition, copper can catalyze the formation of reactive oxygen species that are toxic to pathogens.

People who are deficient in copper have abnormally low neutrophil levels and reduced ability to engulf pathogens. Moderate supplementation can effective restore its function, but beware. Excessive supplementation can be detrimental.

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8) Iron

Iron has many critical functions in the body, including oxygen transport and fighting pathogens. For example, neutrophils require iron to generate reactive oxygen species for killing pathogens.4 T lymphocyte proliferation and cytokine production also require iron. 

Iron deficiency supresses immune responses, leading to a reduced resistance to respiratory tract infection in children. Iron supplementation can effectively improve microbial killing and clearing of the infection.

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9) Selenium

Similar to copper and iron, selenium is also important for proliferation of immune cells, antibody production, and overall immunity.4 Its deficiency disrupts a number of cellular processes required for maximal immune response and increases the risk of respiratory tract infections in children. Supplementation has been shown to improve immune cell counts and enhance immune response to viruses.

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10) Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms that improve the gut flora and subsequently other body functions such as better immunity. The most popular probiotic supplements include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

Apart from improving the physical gut barrier function, probiotics can also induce anti-inflammatory cytokines, promote T and B cell functions.9 These benefits can enhance resistance against respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

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Best Immune System Supplements: A Summary

Among a huge number of supplements branded as “immune boosters”, vitamins, minerals and probiotics are the ones with the most solid scientific support. Micronutrients need to be maintained at optimal levels for acute establishment as well as maintenance of immune responses.

Unfortunately, there is evidence that dietary intake of various micronutrients is inadequate around the world, including in developed countries. This increases the risk of infection, especially when the infectious disease that we are dealing with is novel (such as the case with COVID-19).

In summary, people at high risk of infections or have known deficiencies should supplement a well-balanced diet with multiple immune-supportive micronutrients.

Want to read about the best face masks for coronavirus ➡️ Read this article

How to Boost the Immune System Naturally

Keep a Healthy Diet

Your immune system needs a combination of vitamins and minerals in order to work efficiently. The best way to get adequate vitamin and mineral intake is through your food consumption. A well-balanced meal plan can ensure adequate vitamin and mineral intake.

For balanced vitamin and mineral intake, a diversity of fruits and vegetables is extremely important. Try to eat a variety of colorful, vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables.

For example:

  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Pomegranates
  • Blueberries
  • Pineapple

Support Your Microbiome

Not all bacteria are bad.

In your body, there are plenty of good bacteria, which help combat the bad ones and remove any potential viruses. By consuming plain yogurt every day, you are takingin probiotics which help keep gut flora healthy. You can also add garlic, onion, ginger and fermented foods to your meals pr consider supplementation with a probiotic.

A Final Word from the Wellness Nova Team

When thinking about boosting the immune system, it’s also important to consider our habits. Supplements can help, but it’s all about the lifestyle change.

What to Avoid

  • Smoking and vaping. Smoking and vaping negatively affects your lungs and your overall health. In addition to that, many experts claim that smokers and people with respiratory diseases are more likely to get sick or catch a virus.
  • Alcohol. Even though many studies show that moderate drinking is healthy, drinking more than one glass of wine or other alcoholic beverages can work negatively on your body weight, immune system and your overall health.
  • Stress. Stress can be the cause of many forms illness from headaches, to anxiety attacks, depression and more. Stress can often be tied to lack of sleep. Meditating and exercising can help you relax during stressful periods and relieve your mind of stressful thoughts.

What to Focus On

  • Exercising. A good, well-balanced workout can be very beneficial to your immune system. However, stick to easy and medium level exercises. Bacteria and viruses are more likely to inhabit and get stuck onto a dry throat. Also, by drinking lots of liquid, any potential bacteria travels from your throat to your stomach, where it can be destroyed more easily.
  • Drinking plenty of water. Bacteria and viruses are more likely to inhabit and get stuck onto a dry throat. Also, by drinking lots of liquid, any potential bacteria travels from your throat to your stomach where it can be destroyed more easily.
  • Sleeping well. Even though we often overlook this, lack of sleep can cause us many problems. Sleeping is important for both the body and the mind, and is tied directly to our energy levels. A tired body is prone to developing a weaker immune system. for most adults, seven hours of sleep daily should be the minimal time your body needs to fully rest.

What are you favorite supplements? Which do you find beneficial when it comes to the immune system? Let us know in the comments!

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