Which vitamins can improve our immune system?
As we prepare to head back out into society again, Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist Jen Mackinder shares some secrets about how we can protect ourselves a little better
By Jen Mackinder
Your immune system is continuously at war. A daily barrage of viruses, bacteria and infections is fought off by two divisions: the innate immune system aka the immunity you are born with, and the adaptive system, which is the immunity you develop over time as you are exposed to different pathogens.
An essential part of immune system health is your gut microbiota that reside in the gastrointestinal tract and provide essential health benefits.
The gut houses 70% of the immune system. Therefore, good health in the digestive system leads to good immune health. Probiotics, which are live bacteria and yeasts, are great for digestive systems. These can be taken in supplement form and can also be found in foods such as kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha.
Other things to be mindful of are refined sugars and processed foods. These can strip out nutrients – vitamin C in particular – and damage cells. They are actually immune-suppressing: they push nutrients out of cells in the same way as artificial sweeteners and preservatives.
Coffee is another weakener of the immune system, as our bodies absorb caffeine so quickly that the body prioritises the coffee over other nutrients.
It’s important to ensure that you body has a good supply of many vitamins – none more so than vitamin C. We can’t produce vitamin C ourselves, so our bodies can’t function properly without having an abundance of it. We are reliant on it, particularly when viruses are present.
Vitamin C helps with collagen synthesis, maintains healthy cartilage and also plays a significant role in supporting immune function by downregulating the inflammation pathway. Many studies have proven that this essential vitamin reduces the duration of colds and recurrent infections, and it also aids with wound healing.
Studies have shown that vitamin C can both support and strengthen the physical barriers of the immune system, as well as enhance the ability of white blood cells to fend off infections.
A lack of vitamin C can contribute to fatigue, as this essential vitamin helps us absorb iron, which is vital for making red blood cells and carrying oxygen throughout the body.
Vitamin D has dominated column inches in recent months, with new evidence highlighting its mechanisms; vitamin D is a crucial component of the immune system and is critical for warding off infection, acting as a defence against bacterial, viral or yeast infections.
Vitamin D3 – also known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ – is synthesised from the sun. As there are few dietary sources of vitamin D (oily fish, liver, eggs and butter provide the richest sources), deficiency is extremely common, with an estimated 40% of people lacking this essential vitamin.
Lack of vitamin D can result in symptoms such as a burning mouth, softening of bones and teeth, osteoporosis, rickets, inflammation, type 2 diabetes, joint pain and a weakened immune system, and is also common among individuals with inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders.
Also essential for bone health, vitamin D works together with vitamin C to help regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body in order to maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscle.
Studies have shown that Vitamin D increases insulin sensitivity, helping with type 2 diabetes as well as providing protection against respiratory infections and reducing inflammation.
Another key component of keeping your immune system strong is Zinc. Zinc deficiency is common, with around 75% of us deficient in the world.
Zinc supports the metabolism of vitamin A, which protects cells from oxidative stress and is responsible for hundreds of body processes. Zinc is really important for fighting off infection and supports wound healing from the inside and outside of our bodies, as it keeps our cell membranes strong – preventing pathogens from entering. Deficiencies, therefore, make us much more susceptible and weaken our immune system.
Folic Acid plays a part in synthesizing protein and DNA. Otherwise known as B9, it produces and maintains new cells and helps prevent the alterations to DNA that can cause health conditions compromise immune system health and deplete natural killer cells, which decrease with age and help fight of infection.
Vitamin K, as well as vitamin D, both have roles in the metabolism of calcium. Vitamin D helps to increase the absorption of calcium in the gut while vitamin K assists with the deposit of calcium from the blood into the bones – where they are needed to ensure bones are strong and healthy. In the absence of K2, calcium may accumulate to more significant levels, with harmful effects such as calcification of soft tissue.
Lastly, vitamin A can support immune dysfunctions in the gut, together with systemic immune disorders. It can be critical in keeping your innate immune system’s physical barriers, such as the lining of your gut, super healthy.
Jen Mackinder is a Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist at Gusto Organic, creators of Super DC.
Super DC’s Blood Orange and Blackcurrant and Elderberry drinks are bursting with vitamins. Each containing two grams of vitamin C – that’s 2,500% reference intake (RI) of your daily vitamin C requirement – as well as 200% RI of vitamin D, from a vegan source, 100% of your RI of vitamin K and folic acid, and 50% your RI of zinc and vitamin A.