5 Vitamins To Boost Your Immune System

Don't be re-active about your health. Be pro-active and start integrating these 5 vitamins into your daily supplement routine to help boost your immune system.

Protecting yourself against invading pathogens is crucial to maintain your productivity, mood, and athletic performance. The last thing you want to do when you’re feeling indisposed is go to the gym and workout. Studies have shown that you are most susceptible to getting sick after intense physical activity, therefore, it’s crucial that you’re getting the proper post workout nutrition and supplements to protect yourself and boost your immune system when it’s most vulnerable.

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1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a critical micronutrient that promotes growth, development, and boosts immune function. Every tissue in the human body needs Vitamin A, to build and repair itself. Vitamin A, is a fat-soluble vitamin that is part of the compounds that include beta-carotene.1 Beta-carotene is known as the “pro-Vitamin A” since it can convert into Vitamin A when needed. Vitamin A can help boost your immune system by building the body’s resistance to infection by stimulating white blood cells and increasing antibody activity.2

Adequate nutrition is crucial to maintain optimal levels of energy sources, macronutrients, and micronutrients to promote healthy immune response. You can get more vitamin A in your diet through eating food such as apricots, broccoli, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

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2. B-Vitamins

B-Vitamins are comprised of eight complex and essential water-soluble vitamins that play pivotal roles in cellular function and energy metabolism, acting as co-enzymes in many catabolic and anabolic enzymatic reactions. Numerous clinical studies have demonstrated the benefits of B-Vitamins on energy metabolism, neurological function, neural inflammation, and oxidative stress.3 Most B-Vitamins remain stored in the body; therefore, they must be acquired from your diet through food or supplementation.

Related: 5 Most Important Vitamins For Muscle Growth & Recovery

Like other essential micronutrients, Vitamin B6 is critical for a healthy immune system. Vitamin B6 is also known as pyroxidine serves many important functions, including the creation of proteins, hormones, and also helps carry signals between nerve cells in your brain. Vitamin B6 plays an integral role in the creation of white blood cells. White blood cells regulate immune function. Vitamin B6 also assists your body to create a protein called interleukin 2, which coordinates the actions of white blood cells to regulate immune system function.

Vitamin B12 also plays an essential role in white and red blood cell production. Studies have shown that inadequate levels of Vitamin B12 is associated with a higher prevalence of weakened immune system health.

High levels of Vitamin B12 are naturally found in foods from animal sources, but no sources from plant foods. This is why B-Vitamin supplementation is especially important for vegans or vegetarians.

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3. Vitamin D3

A large body of evidence suggests that Vitamin D3, could in fact be one of the most important vitamins when it comes to warding off upper respiratory infection and maintaining a healthy immune system. Classified as a pro-hormone, Vitamin D is an essential component in bone and mineral metabolism. Often hard to obtain through dietary sources alone, supplementation is crucial for health and wellness.

It's estimated that 1 billion people or 50% of the world population that has a Vitamin D deficiency. According to a national nutrition examination survey, 41.6% of US adults exhibited vitamin d deficiency, with the highest rate seen in African Americans at 82.1% followed by those of Hispanic descent at 69.2%.4 Since Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it’s crucial that you pair vitamin d with a fat, to enable optimal absorption and calcium uptake.

Related: The Truth (and Myths) About Vitamin D

A study with nearly 19,000 participants showed that individuals with lower vitamin d levels were likely to report an upper respiratory tract infection than those with sufficient levels even after adjusting for variables including season, age, gender, body mass and race.5

Recent evidence suggests a statistically significant correlation between vitamin d deficiency and increased infection rates of COVID-19. Intriguing links exist connecting vitamin d in the cytokine storm that foretells serious acute respiratory distress.

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An Italian study published in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation examined 42 patients and found that after 10 days of hospitalization, 50% of patients with severe vitamin D deficiencies died, compared with just 5% of patients who did not have severe deficiencies.

The most recent study conducted in Spain published in the Journal Of Steroid Biochemistry And Molecular Biology has shown the strongest evidence to date using Vitamin D3 (Calcifediol) as a potential therapy for reducing the severity of Covid-19. The study findings support prior cohort and observational studies that discovered low vitamin D3 levels in the blood as an independent risk factor for Covid-19.

Researchers at the Reina Sofia University Hospital, in Córdoba Spain, randomized 76 consecutive patients diagnosed with Covid-19 were selected through electronic randomization, into either oral calcifediol (50 patients) or no-calcifediol control (26 patients) groups on the day of the hospital admission. Oral administration of calcifediol was given with a three-day protocol, with maintenance, at a mega-dose of 0.532 mg on the first day, followed by 0.266 mg on day three and day seven, then weekly until discharge.

Study results concluded that among 26 patients not treated with calcifediol, 13 required ICU admission (50%), with 2 mortalities while out of 50 patients treated with calcifediol only 1 required admission (2%) to the ICU with no mortalities, whereas the other patients remained in conventional hospitalization. Study results were statically significant, with a 93% reduction in odds of ICU admission after adjusting for possible confounders.6

4. Glutamine

Amongst the 20 amino acids, glutamine is by far the most versatile and plays a pivotal role in immune system function. Glutamine is used as a component in clinical nutrition supplementation routinely used for pre and post-operative patients and for elite athletes to restore immune function.7 During time of infection human immune cells increase demand of glutamine. Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning that in times of increased utilization or limited availability such as immunocompromising events it may be necessary to obtain glutamine from diet or supplementation. Several studies have shown that supplementing with glutamine decrease the rate of bacterial infection.8

Often overlooked, athletes can experience an increased susceptibility to infection, due to weakened immune systems while training. Glutamine is used by white blood cells to produce cytokines, (small proteins released by white blood cells). With an increased number of cytokines, you invariably increase your body’s susceptibility to illness and protect your immune system.

Related: Glutamine Supplements: Benefits, Dosages, Side Effects & FAQs

In a randomized controlled trial published by the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 24 athletes were administered 10g of Glutamine per day for six weeks, to determine whether Glutamine supplementation alters immune function in athletes during heavy resistance training.9

The results found that T-cell ratings (White blood cells that help mediate immune health) were extremely different between the groups, indicating a positive correlation that glutamine supplementation may be able to restore immune function and reduce the immunosuppressive effects of heavy-resistance training in athletes.10

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5. Zinc

Zinc is a ubiquitous micronutrient involved in maintaining the homeostatic integrity of human bodily functions, including immune efficiency and human metabolism. Zinc is also a cofactor for numerous enzymes including DNA and RNA replication protein structure, and protein synthesis. Zinc has an abundance of health benefits and plays an imperative role in human biological process and cellular function from a cellular level to support major biological function.11, 12

One of the many great benefits of Zinc is its ability to boost immune health, specifically through signaling T-cell activation, which helps control and regulates the immune response. Zinc is also crucial for normal human development and cells mediating innate immunity, which suggests that it has a role in the prevention of free-radical damage and inflammatory responses.13 Since zinc is essential for virtually every cellular process, observations during zinc deficiency indicate that the absence of this trace element severely affects the immune response.14

According to a systematic review published in the Open Respiratory Medical Journal, Zinc lozenges were assessed to treat the common cold and upper respiratory infections. Out of thirteen randomized controlled trials, five of them used a total daily zinc dose of 75mg or more and uniformly found a 42% reduction in the duration of colds. The review concluded that high doses of zinc could effectively reduce the duration of the common cold when administered at a higher dose of 75mg or more.15

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The Bottom Line

The best way to boost your immune system is to be pro-active rather than re-active. By now, you know that you can’t control when you get the sniffles or when your immune system is compromised. But you can take the necessary steps to help boost your immune system and protect yourself from outside variables. The best and most proven ways to boost your immune system, is through nutrition, exercise, and proper supplementation. Micronutrients such as Vitamin A, Vitamin D3, B-Vitamins and Zinc are essential for overall health and wellbeing. Getting adequate amounts of each vitamin is difficult through diet alone. Adding in quality vitamins to your morning routine is one way to help boost your immune system.

References
  1. Huang, Zhiyi et al. “Role of Vitamin A in the Immune System.” Journal of clinical medicine vol. 7,9 258. 6 Sep. 2018, doi:10.3390/jcm7090258
  2. Maggini, Silvia et al. “Immune Function and Micronutrient Requirements Change over the Life Course.” Nutrients vol. 10,10 1531. 17 Oct. 2018, doi:10.3390/nu10101531
  3. Ford, Talitha C et al. “The Effect of a High-Dose Vitamin B Multivitamin Supplement on the Relationship between Brain Metabolism and Blood Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress: A Randomized Control Trial.” Nutrients vol. 10,12 1860. 1 Dec. 2018, doi:10.3390/nu10121860
  4. Forrest KY, Stuhldreher WL. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutr Res. 2011 Jan;31(1):48-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2010.12.001. PMID: 21310306.
  5. Ginde, Adit A et al. “Association between serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level and upper respiratory tract infection in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.” Archives of internal medicine vol. 169,4 (2009): 384-90. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2008.560
  6. Bilezikian, J.P. , Bikle, D., Hewison, M., Lazaretti-Castro, M., Formenti, A., Gupta, A., Madhavan, M., Nair, N., Babalyan, V., Hutchings, N., Napoli, N., Accili, D., Binkley, N., Landry, D., & Giustina, A. (2020). MECHANISMS IN ENDOCRINOLOGY: Vitamin D and COVID-19, European Journal of Endocrinology, , EJE-20-0665. Retrieved Sep 12, 2020.
  7. Cruzat, Vinicius et al. “Glutamine: Metabolism and Immune Function, Supplementation and Clinical Translation.” Nutrients vol. 10,11 1564. 23 Oct. 2018, doi:10.3390/nu10111564
  8. Wilmore DW, Shabert JK. Role of glutamine in immunologic responses. Nutrition. 1998 Jul-Aug;14(7-8):618-26. doi: 10.1016/s0899-9007(98)00009-4. PMID: 9684266.
  9. Song QH, Xu RM, Zhang QH, Shen GQ, Ma M, Zhao XP, Guo YH, Wang Y. Glutamine supplementation and immune function during heavy load training. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2015 May;53(5):372-6. doi: 10.5414/CP202227. PMID: 25740264.
  10. Wilmore DW, Shabert JK. Role of glutamine in immunologic responses. Nutrition. 1998 Jul-Aug;14(7-8):618-26. doi: 10.1016/s0899-9007(98)00009-4. PMID: 9684266.
  11. Hemilä, Harri. “Zinc lozenges may shorten the duration of colds: a systematic review.” The open respiratory medicine journal vol. 5 (2011): 51-8. doi:10.2174/1874306401105010051
  12. Haase H, Rink L. Multiple impacts of zinc on immune function. Metallomics. 2014 Jul;6(7):1175-80. doi: 10.1039/c3mt00353a. PMID: 24531756.
  13. Prasad, Ananda S. “Zinc in human health: effect of zinc on immune cells.” Molecular medicine (Cambridge, Mass.) vol. 14,5-6 (2008): 353-7. doi:10.2119/2008-00033.Prasad
  14. McClung JP, Scrimgeour AG. "Zinc: an essential trace element with potential benefits to soldiers." Mil Med. 2005 Dec;170(12):1048-52. doi: 10.7205/milmed.170.12.1048. PMID: 16491946.
  15. Saper, Robert B, and Rebecca Rash. “Zinc: an essential micronutrient.” American family physician vol. 79,9 (2009): 768-72.