A well-functioning immune system is important to staying healthy. Made up of a network of tissues, cells, and organs, your immune system protects your body from foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses that cause colds, the flu, and other illness and infection. The immune system can also help prevent complications from chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes.
If you have a weakened immune system, that means it cannot fully protect your health and fight back against the germs you may encounter. Luckily, there are certain things you can do to keep your immune system healthy all year long, such as washing your hands, managing your stress, and regularly exercising. A healthy and well-functioning immune system also requires a steady supply of nutrients which help keep your body working properly.
While most adults in the United States can get nutrients through the foods they eat, some also rely on dietary supplements – such as vitamins, fish oils, herbs, and minerals – for nutritional support.
Which nutrients support the immune system?
Nutrients are critical for all bodily functions, including the immune system. Specifically, nutrients help the immune system in several ways, including:
- Maintain skin and mucus membranes as a barrier to infection
- Regulate enzymes and proteins that protect cells from virus and bacteria
- Produce antibodies and white blood cells that respond to infection
- Support growth and activity of immune cells
- Support immune system signaling and response
A well-balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, good protein, and healthy fats should provide most of the nutrients you need for good health and a well-functioning immune system. The most supportive nutrients for the immune system include:
- Vitamin C – can be found in leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, baked potatoes, and tomatoes
- Vitamin D3 – can be found in fatty fish (salmon/tuna), cheese, egg yolk, and mushrooms. Your skin can also produce vitamin D3 when exposed to sunlight
- Vitamin E – can be found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, and green vegetables
- Selenium – can be found in seafood, meat and poultry, eggs, dairy products, breads, cereals, and grain products
- Zinc – can be found in oysters, red meat, poultry, seafood, beans, nuts, dairy products, and whole grains
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – can be found in fish, algae, and flaxseed
Which dietary supplements can support the immune system?
While many Americans consume sufficient amounts of the nutrients that support the immune system through their diet, some nutrients are consumed in amounts that fall below daily recommendations. This can cause your immune system to become weakened and slow to respond to foreign invaders.
In addition to the dietary supplements that help fill in nutrient gaps – such as the examples provided above – there are other supplements that help support your immune system response, including elderberry, echinacea, and probiotics. Your nutritionist or other healthcare professional can help you find the right supplement for your nutritional needs.
When taking a dietary supplement, it’s important to use them safely and appropriately. Always follow the instructions provided on the Supplement Facts label. It is also important to speak with your healthcare provider about all the medicines and supplements you take.