5 unexpected nutrients to optimize your immune system

by Carlie Saint-Laurent Beaucejour, MS, RD, LDN

The immune system protects us from disease by fighting infections. Our immune system function is lowered during stress. It is important to note that no food can “boost your immune system”, as that can potentially lead to an auto-immune disorder, but it can enhance and support your immune health. Consuming higher doses of a mineral and vitamin does not reveal a better immune system function compared to eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. 

Here are 5 nutrients other than the popularly known and expected nutrient Vitamin C, to help optimize your immune system.   

Vitamin D

 Vitamin D has many roles such as bone metabolism and yes you guessed it, it supports the immune system. Vitamin D deficiency contributes to higher risk of infection. According to the World Health Organization vitamin d supplement can lower the chance of respiratory tract infection. Fatty fish , egg yolk, beef liver,  Swiss cheese, and fortified foods like orange juice, and milk are  dietary sources of vitamin D.  Also sun exposure of 10-20 minutes a day can help increase intake of vitamin D, during the warmer months. Due to the fact there are minimal dietary food sources containing vitamin D, a supplement is encouraged if you are deficient in this nutrient.

Selenium 

Selenium is a mineral and antioxidant which lowers inflammation and supports the immune system by reducing oxidative stress in our body. Food sources of selenium come from selenium-rich soil like garlic, Brazil nuts, and onions. Other foods are, protein from animal tissue such as, seafood and fish, chicken, and meats. 

Zinc

Of zinc’s many functions from reproduction, growth, and metabolism, immunity is also on the list. Research shows zinc balances the immune system by slowing the progression of the immune-response and reducing inflammation. Zinc decreases when the body is under stress, so fueling up of zinc-rich foods becomes crucial. Food sources of zinc are beans, chickpeas, yogurt, poultry, eggs, milk, and whole grains. Main sources of zinc are found in meat, poultry, and fish. Although these two nutrients come from similar food sources, it’s good to know that Vitamin D increases the absorption of zinc.

Probiotics 

Our gut health plays a major role in our immune system, as about 80% of our immune cells live here! Our gut microbiome helps prevent against pathogens and regulate our immune system, amongst many other functions. Probiotic also known as the “good bacteria” are found in fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, cottage cheese, yogurt, or kimchi, which can help promote gut health. A probiotic supplement is discouraged as there are over 300 billions strains. Natasha Haskey, a research dietitian states “If you take a probiotic that acts on the wrong type of cell and suppresses the immune system, it can do more harm than good.” Furthermore, the health benefits of consuming probiotics only occur when they are alive and can diminish during their shelf-life.  

Magnesium 

Did you know magnesium is involved with over 300 biochemical reactions in our body? Which is why it can help support our immune system. According to the Orthomolecular medicine news service,  70-80% of people in the USA are magnesium deficient! The recommended daily amount of magnesium for adults are 420 mg/day for men and 350 mg/day for women. Food sources of magnesium are beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains,

In short consume a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains and many of these five nutrients are in one or more of these food groups!

*Always consult with your medical care provider and registered dietitian before starting a new supplement. 

Sources:

http://www.orthomolecular.org/resources/omns/v13n22.shtml

https://www.seattletimes.com/life/wellness/as-the-novel-coronavirus-spreads-throughout-washington-can-you-boost-your-immunity-with-food/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/immune-boost-coronavirus/2020/03/05/e111554a-5e73-11ea-b014-4fafa866bb81_story.html?wpisrc=nl_sb_smartbrief

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002423.htm

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130207131344.htm

escott-stump, S. (2015). Nutrition & Diagnosis-Related Care. Wolters Kluwer

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