We’ve done the research so you don’t have to
Walk into any health food shop or pharmacy and you’ll find a dizzying collection of vitamins all claiming to promote good health in a range of ways. And most of them do what they say, however reading all those labels and doing the online research can be exhausting – if you bought every vitamin claiming to boost immunity you’d be taking dozens of tablets a day. So we decided to wade through the latest clinical studies, bodies of research and academic thought to find which vitamins represent best bang for your buck when it comes to increasing immunity.
Here’s what we found:
You don’t hear about Vitamin A much, however it’s role in immunity can’t be understated. Those of a certain age might remember mothers or grandmothers forcing cod liver oil down the throats of small children as a preventative for coughs, colds and flus. It worked, broadly, due to its high Vitamin A content and also it’s high Vitamin D content (more on that below).
Good Vitamin A levels are essential to the health of the lining of the respiratory tract, the skin, the gut, the bladder, the inner ear and the eye. Many studies have shown that low Vitamin A levels result in an increased risk of a range of infections, so it’s important to ensure you get enough of the vitamin either through diet or supplements.
Rich sources of Vitamin A include:
- Cod liver oil
- Orange and yellow vegetables such as sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin and yellow squash. Leave the skin on if you can.
- Beef liver
- Dark leafy greens such as spinach
- Egg yolks
- Vitamin A supplements.
Humans store Vitamin A in the liver for later use and so do most animals, which is why cod liver oil and beef liver are very good sources of Vitamin A.
When Vitamin C levels are too low, decreased immunity and increased susceptibility to infections are the result according to several academic studies. In addition, when the body is fighting off an infection, Vitamin C levels are depleted, leaving the body more vulnerable to subsequent infections as well as compromising metabolic function. For these reasons bolstering Vitamin C levels early in an illness is believed to be important in early recovery as well as reducing the severity of symptoms.
One New Zealand study also found that, “…supplementation with vitamin C appears to be able to both prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections.”
Rich sources of Vitamin C include:
- Red capsicum
- Oranges and other citrus fruit
- Berries, particularly strawberries
- Leafy greens such as spinach
- Vitamin C supplements.
In a sun-kissed country like Australia, Vitamin D deficiency is uncommon, however it can still occur. We derive Vitamin D from the sun mostly, however some people absorb it better than others and those in northern hemisphere countries, where there’s very little sun for 6 months of the year, have to be mindful to get safe sun exposure whenever they can.
Vitamin D is actually a type of hormone that helps promote the body’s immune and neuromuscular systems. It plays an important part in management of immune cells and helps to reduce inflammation in the body.
Rich sources of Vitamin D include:
- Safe sun exposure on bare skin (min. 30 minutes a day)
- Cod liver oil
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
- Vitamin D supplements.
Several studies have shown that Vitamin E deficiency, particularly in the aged, leads to a decrease in the immune response. And conversely, when Vitamin E supplements are taken by those with a known deficiency, the body’s natural immune response increases. Vitamin E plays a vital role in regulating immature T cells. T cells are important for immunity as they protect the body from pathogens and activate immune cells to fight off infections when they enter the body.
T cells are lymphocyte immune cells that are produced in bone marrow before migrating to the thymus where they work to ward off infection and inflammation.
Rich sources of Vitamin E include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheat germ oil
- Bone marrow
- Vitamin E supplements.