Immune health is of paramount importance in keeping the body healthy and defending against immune challenges found in our environment. Coming off of a global pandemic, this fact is certainly not in dispute. However, given the constant challenges we are faced with in the form of viruses and bacterial threats, keeping the immune system healthy is a high priority.
Of course, there are multiple factors that play into the health of our immune system. These include diet and lifestyle. Fundamentals like drinking an adequate amount of water and eating a balanced diet that contains antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, along with sufficient protein, are critical. Our cells are made up mostly of water and dehydration reduces their ability to function well. Similarly, our body requires the antioxidants present in fruits and vegetables to deal with the oxidative stress it faces daily from environmental exposures to foods in our diet. Oxidative stress results from excess amounts of free radicals that can damage tissue and cellular health. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, allowing our cells and tissues to remain healthy and function effectively, maintaining the integrity of our immune system. Protein, on the other hand, is made up of amino acids. These serve as building blocks for immune factors that are produced by the bodies, which are proteins in and of themselves. By providing the body these key building blocks, proteins serve a key function in supporting the immune system.
Another aspect of immune health is lifestyle practices. Being overweight and having chronic disease conditions negatively affects immune health. Getting adequate exercise and addressing disease conditions boosts immunity, allowing the body to effectively fend off external challenges.
Natural Immune Support
Even if our dietary and lifestyle practices are healthy, though, there comes a time when we may need extra support. Of course, it is difficult to maintain a perfect diet and lifestyle, so natural immune support in the form of supplements may be crucial for all of us. Specific vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutritional factors can provide the immune system with a protective boost.
These natural food-based factors serve to quench free radicals, thereby reducing the negative effects of oxidative stress on the body. They also directly enhance the function of immune cells, making them more robust at seeking out and destroying invading bacteria and virus particles, and clearing out the toxic byproducts that can result from this process.
Chances are that many of us don’t get a sufficient amount of these nutrients from our diet, and we have a deficiency or a serious insufficiency, leading to immune and related health challenges.
Several nutritional factors fall under the heading of those that are primary for immune support. Some of the more critical ones include vitamin C and D, along with mineral zinc. Other key immune booster supplements include elderberry and beta-glucan from yeast.
Best Supplements to Boost Immune System
Vitamin C – This essential vitamin has a primary role in conferring immune protection. As an antioxidant, it scavenges free radicals, protecting the function of immune cells. It stabilizes collagen and connective tissue, protecting the integrity of the physical immune barrier. Vitamin C also directly impacts the function of white blood cells like monocytes and neutrophils, which are key cells that help fend off pathogenic viruses and bacteria. Moreover, it acts like an antihistamine and has anti-inflammatory effects. With this broad range of activity, it’s easy to see why vitamin C is an essential nutrient for immune health.
Zinc and Vitamin D - Zinc is critical for health overall and it acts as an important gatekeeper for the immune response. Over two billion people worldwide are deficient in zinc, making supplementation of this mineral even more critical. It has two major effects on immune function, balancing the inflammation response and facilitating the body’s reaction to oxidative stress. Zinc’s influence on the immune system extends to all facets and these include helping with immune cell formation, immune cell function, and cell signaling. Zinc supplements have even been found to shorten duration of cold and other immune challenges in some studies. Vitamin D, on the other hand, is a prohormone-like vitamin that plays a crucial role in helping white blood cells do battle and regulate inflammation. Research shows that the vitamin D receptor is present on all immune cells. Vitamin D also helps to boost both arms of the immune response in important ways, including the innate and adaptive immune responses. As a modulator of immune function, it keeps the immune response in balance. An overactive immune system leads to excess inflammation and ultimately causes damage to cells in the body. Vitamin D pushes the cells of the immune system away from producing inflammatory cytokines towards the increased production of anti-inflammatory cytokines. Together, zinc and vitamin D make an effective combination for immune support.
Elderberry – Traditionally used to support immune health for hundreds of years, elderberry’s health benefits are now supported by science. Rich in polyphenols and anthocyanins, research supports the direct antiviral and anti-bacterial effects of elderberry’s active compounds. These nutrients also support antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, and human studies show elderberry helps with enhanced recovery from immune illnesses and a reduction in key immune symptoms. This is likely because of elderberry’s ability to enhance the function of monocytes and other immune cell function, leading to a stimulation of the immune response. Adding in an elderberry supplement can serve to naturally enhance the body’s immune response.
Yeast Beta Glucan – As key structural components of yeast cells, beta glucans are garnering scientific interest for their profound effects on human immune function. Working through the gut – home to more than 70% of our immune system – they act to fire up immune function and enhance the robustness of the body’s immune response. These polysaccharides from yeast have been shown to prime the immune system and increase its vigilance against invading pathogens. Once processed through the immune tissue residing in the gut, beta glucan travels through circulation and reach immune cells and organs throughout the body. Once there, they enhance key immune processes including phagocytosis (engulfing of bacteria and viruses by immune cells), chemotaxis (quicker response of immune cells to the site of attack), and oxidative burst (the ability of immune cells to secrete compounds that are deadly to invading immune challengers). Yeast-derived beta glucan supplements are particularly useful to support immune function as we age. Over time, a natural decline in immune function occurs, while supplementing with beta-glucan can help the immune system function like it did when we were young.
Supporting the immune system is a key factor in staying healthy and protected. Along with diet and lifestyle changes, adding in critical nutritional compounds in the form of natural immune booster supplements can be a good choice to enhance immune response and keep the immune system functioning at a high level of vigilance.
- Carr AC et al. 2017. Vitamin C and Immune Function.
- Wessels I et al. 2017. Zinc as a gatekeeper of immune function
- Sambucus nigra (Elderberry). Monograph. Alternative Medicine Review. 2005.
- De Marco Castro E, et al. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2021.
- Fakhoury HMA et al. 2020. Vitamin D and intestinal homoeostasis: barrier, microbiota and immune modulation.