Building A Better Immune System With These Essential Nutrients
Never before has there been a focus on preventative health like now. And all it took was a pandemic! In addition to the preventative measures of social distancing, such as hand washing and wearing face coverings, government officials have finally recognized that certain dietary supplements, especially vitamins D and C, are critically important for a healthy immune system and may help to lower the risk of influenza and upper respiratory tract infection such as COVID-19.1,2,3,4,5,6,7 Research shows there are also several other supplements including amino acids and certain minerals that are critically important for a healthy immune system. Here are the top immune-supporting supplements you should consider taking.
Vitamins C and D
Vitamins C and D are particularly important for your immune system. Studies show that a deficiency in either of these vitamins causes impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infection, including the flu and upper respiratory tract infections. Supplementation with vitamin C appears to both help prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections, including coronavirus-type infections.1 The recommended dose of vitamin C is 1,000 mg a day. Because vitamin C is water-soluble and does not store in the body, experts recommend 1,000 mg up to three times a day, especially when your immune system is challenged.
Unlike vitamin C, vitamin D is fat-soluble and can store in the body. A chemical reaction occurs between the ultraviolet rays of the sun and the human skin that manufactures vitamin D3. Unfortunately, most Americans do not get enough sun exposure throughout the year to create enough vitamin D3. In fact, studies show 80–90 percent of Americans are deficient in this vitamin. The health consequences of being deficient in vitamin D3 are much greater than you might imagine. The risk of a wide variety of diseases, ranging from neurological problems to cancers, increase dramatically. For those whose levels are in the ideal range (40–60 ng/ml), the risk of those diseases is minimal. This appears to also be true for COVID-19. A recent study conducted by Northwestern University found that COVID-19 patients who are severely deficient in vitamin D are twice as likely to experience severe complications, including death.3,6,7
The only way to know how much vitamin D you should be taking is to test your levels. Right now, it may be difficult to schedule with your doctor, but you can still get your vitamin D level checked by ordering an at-home vitamin D test kit from www.nutrientpower.org.
The kit arrives at your home with instructions. Shortly after you send your sample back, you will receive an email with your results. If your levels are very low, you will want to take the higher doses of vitamin D determined by a vitamin D calculator and re-check your levels in a few months.
According to the British Journal of Nutrition11, a deficiency of dietary protein or amino acids impairs immune function and increases the risk of infectious disease. Amino acids play a major role in protein synthesis and the formation of white blood cell and antibodies, which your body’s immune system uses to help fight off foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses.10 With limited exercise options during lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing, muscle loss can play a bigger role than most realize—it can impair your immune system and increase your susceptibility to sickness. Lean muscle loss is a particular issue in those who are aged 60 and older because as we age, we lose lean muscle every year.
Studies show that if you take a specific combination of amino acids as a supplement, it not only supplies your immune system with the nutrients it needs, but it also helps to prevent muscle loss. An amino acid supplement called Rejuvenate consists of the exact combination of essential amino acids—including higher concentrations of leucine, valine and isoleucine—shown in the studies to be most effective.8,12,13,14,15 As the subject of more than 25 clinical peer-reviewed published studies, Rejuvenate has been shown to be extremely effective, including increasing the body’s ability to rebuild and repair muscle by 57 percent with noticeable muscle mass improvement within just 30 days.
In one study published by The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism14, patients on bed rest gained muscle mass with Rejuvenate compared to those who experienced muscle loss who were not taking the supplement. Developed by one of the world’s leading researchers in protein and amino acid nutrition, Rejuvenate is affordable and easy to take. It comes in individual powder pouches and can be easily mixed with water.
Your immune system cannot function well without adequate amounts of the minerals zinc, copper and selenium. Zinc not only helps immune function, but it has also been shown to prevent the replication of viruses inside cells and can decrease the duration of colds.16,18,19 Zinc lozenges are especially effective as reported in a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.16 Although there is no direct evidence at this time that zinc lozenges can prevent or treat COVID-19, Dr. James Robb, a retired virologist at University of California San Diego believes it may be helpful because zinc was shown in a lab study in 2010 to inhibit the replication of coronavirus in cells.18 Zinc lozenges should not be taken for more than five to seven days because it may cause a copper deficiency, which can dangerously impair immune function.
The link between copper and innate immune function has been recognized for decades. The immune system requires copper to perform several functions, of which little is known about the direct mechanism of action.20 Mild copper deficiency in humans and animals are characterized by neutropenia or a low white blood cell count.21 The recommended daily allowance is around 900 micrograms (mcg) a day for adolescents and adults.
Selenium is an essential micronutrient found in the soil that plays a crucial role in a wide variety of physiological processes including effective immune responses. Viral and bacterial infections are often associated with deficiencies of selenium 22,23,24 as well as an increased incidence of influenza viruses mutating to highly pathogenic strains.23 Recommended daily amounts are 200 mcg.
A Healthy FoundationReferences
Supplements, as their name implies, are meant to be used in addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle. For immune-boosting supplements to work well, you must provide your body with high-quality nutrition and engage in health-promoting daily habits, including regular exercise, adequate sleep, meditation or other stress-reducing techniques such as yoga. If you eat a lot of processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugar; stay up too late at night; drink excessive alcohol; smoke cigarettes; and are inactive, your immune system will be so severely weakened that no supplements will be able to counteract that damage. One of the big takeaways of the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of immune system strength. You should be working on your immune system daily, not just when we are getting older or feeling run down and sick. By making sure your diet and lifestyle is as healthy as possible, and supplementing with key vitamins (C and D), minerals (zinc, copper, and selenium) and the amino acids (the combination found in Rejuvenate), you’ll be much better prepared to face any future infectious disease challenges.
- Hemilä H. Vitamin C and SARS coronavirus. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2003;52(6):1049–1050. doi:10.1093/jac/dkh002.
- Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(11):1211. Published 2017 Nov 3. doi:10.3390/nu9111211.
- Grant WB, Lahore H, McDonnell SL, et al. Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Risk of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections and Deaths. Nutrients. 2020;12(4):E988. Published 2020 Apr 2. doi:10.3390/nu12040988.
- Cannell JJ, Vieth R, Umhau JC, et al. Epidemic influenza and vitamin D. Epidemiol Infect. 2006;134(6):1129–1140. doi:10.1017/S0950268806007175.
- Prietl, Barbara et al. “Vitamin D and immune function.” Nutrients vol. 5,7 2502-21. 5 Jul. 2013, doi:10.3390/nu5072502 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738984/.
- Vitamin D levels appear to play role in COVID-19 mortality rates.
- The Possible Role of Vitamin D in Suppressing Cytokine Storm and Associated Mortality in COVID-19 Patients. Healthy Vitamin D Levels Could Be Linked to COVID-19 Survival
- English KL, Paddon-Jones D. Protecting muscle mass and function in older adults during bed rest. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2010;13(1):34–39. doi:10.1097/MCO.0b013e328333aa66.
- Knight J et al (2019) Effects of bedrest 5: the muscles, joints and mobility. Nursing Times [online]; 115: 4, 54–57. https://cdn.ps.emap.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2019/03/190320-Effects-of-bedrest-5-the-muscles-joints-and-mobility.pdf.
- Phillip C. Calder, Branched-Chain Amino Acids and Immunity, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 136, Issue 1, January 2006, Pages 288S–293S, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/136.1.288Shttps://academic.oup.com/jn/article/136/1/288S/4664141.
- Li, P., Yin, Y., Li, D., Woo Kim, S., & Wu, G. (2007). Amino acids and immune function. British Journal of Nutrition, 98(2), 237-252. doi:10.1017/S000711450769936X.
- Katsanos CS, Kobayashi H, Sheffield-Moore M, Aarsland A, Wolfe RR. A high proportion of leucine is required for optimal stimulation of the rate of muscle protein synthesis by essential amino acids in the elderly. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2006;291(2):E381–E387. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00488.2005.
- Børsheim E, Bui QU, Tissier S, Kobayashi H, Ferrando AA, Wolfe RR. Effect of amino acid supplementation on muscle mass, strength and physical function in elderly. Clin Nutr. 2008;27(2):189–195. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2008.01.001.
- Paddon-Jones D, Sheffield-Moore M, Urban RJ, et al. Essential amino acid and carbohydrate supplementation ameliorates muscle protein loss in humans during 28 days bedrest. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004;89(9):4351–4358. doi:10.1210/jc.2003–032159.
- Ferrando AA, Paddon-Jones D, Hays NP, et al. EAA supplementation to increase nitrogen intake improves muscle function during bed rest in the elderly. Clin Nutr. 2010;29(1):18–23. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2009.03.009.
- Prasad AS, Fitzgerald JT, Bao B, Beck FW, Chandrasekar PH. Duration of symptoms and plasma cytokine levels in patients with the common cold treated with zinc acetate. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2000;133(4):245–252. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-133-4-200008150-00006.
- Shankar AH, Prasad AS. Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68(2 Suppl):447S–463S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/68.2.447S .
- te Velthuis AJW, van den Worm SHE, Sims AC, Baric RS, Snijder EJ, van Hemert MJ (2010) Zn2+ Inhibits Coronavirus and Arterivirus RNA Polymerase Activity In Vitro and Zinc Ionophores Block the Replication of These Viruses in Cell Culture. PLoS Pathog 2010 Nov; 6(11): e1001176. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1001176 https://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1001176.
- Rao, Goutham, and Kate Rowland. “PURLs: Zinc for the common cold—not if, but when.” The Journal of family practice vol. 60,11 (2011): 669-71.
- Percival SS.Copper and immunity. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;67(5 Suppl):1064S–1068S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/67.5.1064S .
- Karrera Y. Djoko,1 Cheryl-lynn Y. Ong,1 Mark J. Walker, and Alastair G. McEwan The Role of Copper and Zinc Toxicity in Innate Immune Defense against Bacterial Pathogens* J BiolChem. 2015 Jul 31; 290(31): 18954–18961.
- Avery JC, Hoffmann PR. Selenium, Selenoproteins, and Immunity. Nutrients. 2018;10(9):1203. Published 2018 Sep 1. doi:10.3390/nu10091203.
- Steinbrenner H, Al-Quraishy S, Dkhil MA, Wunderlich F, Sies H. Dietary selenium in adjuvant therapy of viral and bacterial infections. Adv Nutr. 2015;6(1):73–82. Published 2015 Jan 15. doi:10.3945/an.114.007575.
- Hoffmann, Peter R, and Marla J Berry. “The influence of selenium on immune responses.” Molecular nutrition & food research vol. 52,11 (2008): 1273-80. doi:10.1002/mnfr.200700330.
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Christine Horner, MD
Christine Horner, MD is a board-certified and nationally recognized surgeon, author, expert in natural medicine, and a relentless champion for women’s health. She spearheaded legislation in the 1990s that made it mandatory that insurance companies pay for breast reconstruction following mastectomy. She is the author of Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr. Christine Horner’s Program to Protect Against and Fight Breast Cancer, winner of the Independent Book Publishers Award 2006 for “Best Book in Health, Medicine, and Nutrition.”