It’s officially cold and flu season, and there isn’t anything worse than feeling under the weather.
Many products on the market claim to boost your immune system, but is there a quick fix to make you feel better when you’ve been struck down with a cold or flu?
At Discount Supplements, we’re busting all the myths associated with boosting your immune system and recommending the top 5 vitamins, minerals and foods you can consume to improve yours.
Table of contents:
What is the immune system?
How to boost the immune system naturally
How to improve the immune system with supplements
How to strengthen the immune system
What is the immune system?
The immune system is what protects us from the potentially harmful microbes and diseases we come into contact with daily. It recognises parasites, bacteria and viruses, taking immediate action to protect us from becoming ill.
There are two types of immunity: innate and adaptive.
Innate immunity is our first protection against pathogens trying to enter our body. This usually occurs as a protective barrier, such as the mucus in the nose and throat that traps germs before they enter our bodies.
Adaptive immunity is when our body learns to recognise a pathogen to fight it off more quickly in the future.
When an unknown foreign substance enters our bodies, cells from the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow and thymus create antibodies, leading to the multiplication of immune cells specific to the foreign substance that attacks and destroys it. If the same foreign substance enters again, the immune system remembers and learns from the process before so that it can deal with it more quickly.
How to boost the immune system naturally?
The best way to naturally strengthen and boost your immune system is to live a healthy lifestyle consisting of a healthy, balanced diet containing all essential food groups to maintain a healthy weight and regular exercise. It’s also important to ensure you get an optimum amount of sleep per night to help reduce and manage stress.
Finally, avoiding harmful substances such as tobacco and limiting alcohol consumption can all be helpful ways to keep your immune system performing at its best.
How to improve the immune system with supplements?
Although your immune system can’t be magically boosted overnight, there are five vitamins that you can take to support your immune system. These are Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Vitamin D and Vitamin B9.
In this next section, we’ll explain why these vitamins are good for you and how they can help boost your immune system as part of a healthy lifestyle. We’ve also included some minerals that strengthen and support your immune system.
5 vitamins to boost the immune system
1. Vitamin C
Not only does vitamin C prevent infection, but it’s also known to shorten the time an infection can stay in your body. Vitamin C helps the body to increase its production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections.
Vitamin C is found most commonly in citrus fruits. However, it’s also found in spinach, which is packed with antioxidants, kale, sprouts, papaya and strawberries. One of the best foods to eat to guarantee a good vitamin C intake is bell peppers, which are much richer in vitamin C than oranges.
You can find vitamin C in many foods, so you shouldn’t need to supplement it. However, Vitamin C is water-soluble, so the body can’t store or produce it, which means you’ll want to add it to your daily diet, as a vitamin C deficiency can weaken the immune system.
The recommended daily vitamin C intake is 40mg for adults ages 19-64, so if you decide to supplement it, stay within the recommended guidelines.
2. Vitamin E
A powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight infection, Vitamin E factors in nearly 200 of the body's biochemical reactions, so it's no wonder that it's so important for fuelling our immune systems!
Found most commonly in plant foods high in fat, you can get your daily allowance of vitamin E from almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and butters, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil.
Vitamin E is fat-soluble, therefore, the body can store any unused for when it needs it the most, so you should be able to get all of the vitamin E you need from your diet. However, you can find vitamin E in most multivitamin supplements if you struggle to get your daily intake.
3. Vitamin A
Vitamin A, also known as retinoids, is an essential infection fighter that comes in two forms - preformed and carotenoids.
Preformed vitamin A comes from animal sources and by-products such as meat, dairy and fish. The liver can store preformed vitamin A for when it needs it, but too much can be toxic for the liver, so stay within the recommended daily amount.
If you're topping up your vitamin A from carotenoids, go for colour! Carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe and dark green leafy vegetables are all great sources of beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A when needed.
You shouldn't need to supplement vitamin A, but if you do, try to stay within the recommended daily allowance of 600 micrograms and opt for supplements that contain at least 20% vitamin A from beta-carotene, as this is healthier for the liver.
4. Vitamin D
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for supporting the immune system. Usually taken on by the body naturally through exposure to sunlight, Vitamin D attacks viruses, helping us to stay well and fight off infection.
Found in oily fish, including salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel and in Vitamin D fortified foods such as milk, orange juice and cereal, although it's easy to find in your diet, it is one of the most popular vitamins that people choose to supplement - particularly in the winter when there are low levels of sunlight.
5. Vitamin B9
Vitamin B9 is also known as folate, the natural form of vitamin B9, or folic acid, a synthetic form added to foods or taken in supplement form to add health benefits.
If the body is lacking in folic acid, this can be detrimental to the immune system. Deficiency can alter immune responses and interfere with metabolic processes.
Folic acid helps with normal blood formation, plays a part in cell division, helps reduce tiredness and fatigue, and aids the immune system in functioning properly.
As Vitamin B9 is water soluble, it's important to prioritise your diet to make sure it includes it every day, as the body cannot store it. You can find natural folate in beans, leafy greens, lentils and avocado, and folic acid in enriched pasta, bread and rice.
You can find folic acid in most multivitamin supplements or in super B vitamin supplements containing measured recommended daily amounts of most of your B vitamins to ensure you enrich your diet by supplementing the essentials.
Minerals that can aid the immune system
Iron plays a part in many of the immune system's main processes and aids the body in carrying those all-important oxygen cells. It comes in different forms, but the body finds it easier to absorb iron from animal products.
There are good sources of iron in red meat, chicken, turkey, oysters, clams, tuna and sardines. If you're vegetarian or vegan, however, beans, kale, broccoli, and iron-fortified cereals are all effective ways to increase your iron intake. You can also find iron in most multivitamin supplements.
Found in most seafood, poultry, liver and cottage cheese, selenium has a powerful effect on the immune system and helps prevent infections. It's also readily available in Brazil nuts, which offer over 100% of the recommended daily amount in a single nut. Therefore, it's recommended that you only eat one or two per day.
Zinc is a really important mineral used in the body to produce new cells for the immune system. It can be found in yoghurt, chickpeas, baked beans, meats and poultry or in zinc supplements to be taken alongside a healthy, balanced diet.
Magnesium is a hero mineral, which helps the body's white blood cells to find and destroy germs. Found in wholemeal bread, spinach and nuts, according to the NHS, women need around 270 mg per day, whereas men need around 300 mg. Avoid exceeding these recommended daily amounts, as too much magnesium can cause diarrhoea.
How to strengthen the immune system
By ensuring you have a healthy, balanced diet that includes all of the vital vitamins and minerals mentioned above, paired with an active lifestyle, an adequate amount of sleep and low levels of stress, your immune system will be equipped to perform to the best of its ability and will strengthen over time.
Hygiene is really important, too, so make sure to wash your hands regularly to remove germs, particularly before you eat, to prevent any germs, bacteria and unknown pathogens from entering your body.
By combining all these things with the suggested immune-boosting supplements, your immune system will stay strong and keep you healthy, season after season!
Find all the essential vitamins and minerals you need by shopping the links above or by exploring our full immune support supplements range and prepare to face cold and flu season. Or, for more options, why not browse our complete wellbeing range?