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Three important nutrients needed for proper immune function

Age related illnesses, Immune | October 28, 2020 | Author: Naturopath

Immune, age related

Three important nutrients needed for proper immune function

There are many components needed for our immune system to function optimally, but there are three nutrients which are standouts. Zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D. Having a well-functioning immune system is one the best defences against viral infection, especially with life-threatening viruses. Many viruses are easily spread and infection is near impossible to avoid. Not only do zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D work prophylactically to prevent infection, they also help recovery from infection and reduce the chance of further disease development. Thus it is important to prevent deficiency and maintain adequate levels of these three important nutrients. 

Why Zinc?

Zinc is an essential mineral for human health. It plays a role in many areas of immune system, such as the development and function of cells responsible for mediating the innate immune system. The innate immune system is the first line of defence against pathogens. Zinc supports the development of Natural killer cells, cells which eliminate viral and cancer cells, and neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, which helps resolve injury and infection and aids in the healing damaged tissue. Zinc also works as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory.

A deficiency of zinc can severely compromise immune function. Deficiency affects macrophages, phagocytosis, intracellular killing and the production of cytokines.

Why Zinc?These are the defence cells which protect us from invasion of pathogens (viruses and bacteria). 

A deficiency of zinc affects the growth and function of T and B cells. T cells are the core cells of the adaptive immunity, the immunity which is tailored to respond to a specific pathogen - which they seek out and destroy; B cells are cells of adaptive immunity primarily responsible for humoral immunity (preventing the spread of pathogens inside the body).

Zinc is essential for:

  • balancing the immune response
  • preserving natural tissue barriers – for example the respiratory epithelium and the external epithelium (the skin) – preventing attack and entry by pathogens
  • preventing viral replication
  • preventing infection or further progression of a virus
  • its antioxidant potential
  • reducing allergic response
  • preventing zinc deficiency

Other areas of the body which can be affected by zinc deficiency include: age-related macular degeneration in the prevention of blindness; acute infantile diarrhoea; skin conditions such as acne and eczema; testosterone in males, sperm reduction (oligospermia), excess of ammonia in the blood (hyperammonemia), dysfunctions in cognitive function (neurosensory disorders), decreased lean body mass, and growth retardation.

Common symptoms of viruses can include an impaired smell and taste, fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue and weakness, aching limbs and diarrhea (as seen with COVID-19). These symptoms are also associated with an altered zinc balance.

Why vitamin C?

Vitamin C is needed by the body for effective functioning of the immune system – mounting appropriate and sustainable response and at the same time protecting the body against damage caused in the battle. Vitamin C supports both the innate and the adaptive immune system function. Vitamin C stimulates the migration of neutrophils to the site of an infection, enhances phagocytosis (the engulfing of a pathogen) and microbial death. 

Vitamin C protects against pathogen invasion by supporting the epithelial barrier function and oxidant scavenging activity of the skin - protecting against environmental oxidative stress (UV radiation, pollution) along with offering internal antioxidant support.

  • Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the production and accumulation of oxygen reactive species (ROS) in cells and tissues - and the ability of the body to detoxify these reactive products. Oxidative stress and free radicals are generally known to have a detrimental effect on human immunity and contributing to many pathologies such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Antioxidants have had many studies promoting their ability to counteract oxidative stress and prevent its negative effect on health. Vitamin C plays a major antioxidant role in the body, protecting the body against both endogenous and exogenous stressors.
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Vitamin C can both prevent and treat upper respiratory and other infections in the body by enhancing immune cell functions. As a prophylactic, dietary amounts of between 100 - 200mg are needed daily to provide adequate protection. In the case of a infection, amounts of more than 1000mg are needed to replenish metabolic needs.

Many studies have shown most people in the world suffer from a deficiency of vitamin C. This could be due to insufficient intake (fresh fruits and vegetables), or to increased needs of the body in defence of pollution, infection and chronic inflammatory diseases (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease), lifestyle habits (such as smoking, alcohol consumption) and even excessive exercise. Vitamin C is not stored in the body and thus needs to be supplied every day.

Why vitamin D

Most people know of vitamins D’s important in the regulation of calcium and phosphate metabolism for maintaining strong bones, but vitamin D is also very important to the body as an immunomodulatory hormone exerting activity on many components of the innate and adaptive immune system.

Vitamin D metabolizing enzymes and receptors are found in many types of cells including those of the immune system. These include antigen-presenting-cells, T cells, B cells and monocytes.

Low levels of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (vitamin D in the blood) are associated with the development of many immune-related disorders and diseases. These include:

  • Respiratory infection
  • COVID-19
  • Sepsis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Psoriasis

The amount of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D is which is considered adequate is 30 ng/mL (75 nmol/L), but optimal levels are suggested at 40–60 ng/mL (100–150 nmol/L) for which the best health results can be achieved. Vitamin D at higher levels may also have added benefit in some individuals. Sufferers of irritable bowel disease and the elderly are particularly of concern for low vitamin D.

The best defence is a good offence.  

Vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc can help prevent infection and aid recovery. 

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Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2277319

The Potential Impact of Zinc Supplementation on COVID-19 Pathogenesis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7365891/

Chapter 9The Humoral Immune Response https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10752/



Vitamin C and Immune Function https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707683/

Oxidative Stress: Harms and Benefits for Human Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5551541/

Immunologic Effects of Vitamin D on Human Health and Disease https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7400911/

Perspective: improving vitamin D status in the management of COVID-19 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32398871/

Perspective: improving vitamin D status in the management of COVID-19 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7216123/

Vitamin D and Immune Function https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738984/

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