A healthy immune system is the key to overall health. It’s designed to encourage the proper response against invaders when they manage to infiltrate the body and cause infection, disease, or chronic illness. The immune system sends out specific cells in an attempt to curb the spread of these invaders and eliminate them from the body.
When the immune system isn’t functioning at its best – which can happen when the body isn’t getting all the essential vitamins it needs – pathogens have free access, leading to less than ideal outcomes. Some illnesses can be prevented entirely if the immune system is up and running at its most optimal levels, and when that happens, the body will thank you for it. Here are some of the most important vitamins to maintain a healthy immune system.
How to naturally boost your immune system
Boosting the immune system doesn’t have to be a difficult task. Many things can be done to help encourage the proper production of T-cells, including:
- Quality sleep
- A diet rich in whole foods
Some vitamins reign supreme when it comes to helping the immune system get the job done right. Although the body needs a plethora of vitamins and minerals to run properly, there are some that focus heavily on the immune system, and these are the most important when it comes to boosting and maintaining a healthy level of immunity. So what are the most important vitamins for a healthy immune system?
Vitamin A is a micronutrient that has a unique organic compound. There are two types of vitamin A, both of which need fat in the diet to be absorbed properly. Retinol is the active form of the vitamin and can be found in animal sources. The plant form, known as carotenoids, is found in fruits and vegetables. The compound isn’t naturally created in the body, and when it is consumed through diet, it is stored in the liver.
When part of the body requires vitamin A, it is sent out from the liver to the specific area where it is needed. The vitamin can only be ingested through diet (or supplementation) and is found in many foods, including:
- Dark leafy vegetables such as spinach and chard
- Sweet potatoes
As part of the B family of vitamins, vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that acts as a coenzyme in metabolism. B6 also has a great impact on inflammation throughout the body and, of course, immune function.
Deficiency in vitamin B6 can lead to a host of different health issues, including rashes, mood changes, and low energy or fatigue. There are many food sources available for vitamin B6, including:
- Wholegrain cereals and breads
- Beans (soya)
Vitamin C has been hailed the best immunity booster, and for good reason. Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C has even been used in the past to treat ailments such as scurvy. It assists the body with enzyme production and tissue repair. In the immune system, it helps in the production of lymphocytes, a form of white blood cell that aids in the prevention of infection.
Plenty of foods contain vitamin C in high amounts, including:
- Bell peppers (red, green)
- Chili peppers
- Brussels sprouts
Another great fat-soluble vitamin that can help maintain or boost the immune system is vitamin D. The vitamin plays a huge role in absorbing calcium, magnesium and phosphate through the intestines.
In terms of the immune system, vitamin D is responsible for modulating the different parts of the system, including the innate and adaptive responses. When the cells responsible for immune response get vitamin D, they are able to synthesize it, encouraging the healthy response in the case of pathogen invasion.
A great source of vitamin D is the sun, but healthy amounts can also be achieved by eating the following foods on a regular basis:
- Fish (salmon, whitefish, swordfish, rainbow trout)
- Fortified milk
- Soy milk
Last but not least is Vitamin E, a group of fat-soluble compounds made up of tocopherols and tocotrienols. Vitamin E acts as a cell protector, and is known to have antioxidant properties that can help eliminate toxins throughout the body. Vitamin E plays a role in the immune system by protecting and slowing the damage process of white blood cells, which in turn helps them respond better and faster to pathogens.
A vitamin E deficiency can cause the immune function to slow and can also lead to other health problems, including heart disease and even cancer. Increasing vitamin E levels can be as easy as ingesting the following foods:
- Sunflower seeds
- Nuts (hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds)
- Olive oil
The body needs to ingest the most important vitamins for a healthy immune system as regularly as possible. A healthy diet rich in these five vitamins will not only boost immune function, but also make it easier for the body to respond to pathogens, create new cells, and ward off chronic illness.
Featured image by Ella Olsson on Unsplash