Immune Function

Nutrients to Support Immune Function 

The immune system plays an important role in keeping the body healthy. In order for us to have energy, feel and look great we need to keep the immune system’s defense strong. Poor immune function can occur from a poor diet, lack of exercise, reduced ability to handle stress and from outside environmental issues. 

To strengthen immune function, a plant based diet full of dark colored fruits and vegetables, which are rich in carotenoids is beneficial. In addition, exercise and time taken each week to relax and enjoy life is important. If you are unable to find a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit, know that frozen produce is picked at the “peak” of its ripeness and are full of nutrients. Vitamin C, E, A, D, folic acid, zinc, iron and selenium are just a few nutrients that are found in a healthy diet that strengthens immunity. A few plant sources include elderberry, astragalus, echinacea, goldenseal and ginger. A few are listed below with their functions. 

Vitamin C is a necessary, water soluble nutrient that is found in different citrus fruits and green vegetables. Research shows that it is involved in key cellular roles to support immunity. 

It acts as an antioxidant at the cellular level to fight against harmful oxidative stress. (Hah Y-S et al, 2017). The skin’s epithelial wall is part of the immune system to keep foreign substances out of the body. Vitamin C helps to protect the body surface, the body cavity lining and specific organs (Carr AC, Maggini S, 2017). 

Vitamin C also stimulates the production and activation of immune cells such as T lymphocytes (T cells) and natural killer cells (van Gorkom GNY et al, 2019). 

Zinc is a key mineral that has an important role in supporting immune function. It helps to maintain white blood cells and thymus gland activity. The thymus is part of the immune system, which is located near the front of the heart and below the sternum. It is one of the body’s most important antioxidants against free radicals. 

The immune system is impaired when there are low zinc levels in the body, especially the cell-mediated response by T-lymphocytes (Prasad AS, 2013; Hönscheid A et al, 2009). Zinc is used to manufacture and activate T-lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that operate against harmful cellular attacks. Other research has shown that zinc supports upper respiratory system problems. 

Elderberry also known as Sambucus nigra, is from the black elderberry fruit found in Europe and North America and used as a food such as jam, but also used for making wine. This fruit with its rich source of carotenoids has demonstrated to help strengthen immune function. 

A human randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study was performed on a 312 passengers travelling on a plane from Australia to another location (Tiralongo E et al, 2016). The study administered a filtered elderberry extract or provided a placebo. Measurements were made on physical, respiratory and mental health. 

Subjects recorded symptoms in a daily diary and 3 different surveys were used with questions on their quality of life and upper respiratory health before travel and 4 days after they stopped traveling. The placebo group experienced more upper respiratory problems than the elderberry group. The placebo group had a significantly longer time to recover from respiratory problems than the elderberry group (117 vs. 57, p = 0.02) and the average symptom score over this time was also significantly higher in the placebo group (583 vs. 247, p = 0.05). 

There has also been laboratory work that shows that elderberry juice serum applied to infected cells before, during and after showed that elderberry blocked a harmful protein from entering host cells (Torabian G et al, 2019). 

In summary, it is important to keep the immune system healthy by eating a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, rich in carotenoids; exercise and taking time to enjoy life. Nutrients that have been shown to provide support to the immune system are Vitamin C, E, A, D, folic acid, zinc, iron and selenium and plant sources such as elderberry, astragalus, echinacea, goldenseal and ginger. Vitamin C, zinc and Elderberry have some important research to demonstrate their effectiveness to strengthen immune function.

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. 

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