Nutrition for Immune Health

This winter has been ROUGH with germs going around. It feels like once you get over one bug, another member of the family gets sick, and the cycle starts all over again. It can be incredibly frustrating to have to miss work, school, or other events because of this. Read on for some tips on keeping your immune system strong and getting the best nutrition while not feeling well.

So, what is the best way to maintain a healthy immune system? Is it through food, supplements, or something else? There are a lot of supplements marketed toward strengthening immune function, such as Emergen-C and Greens powder. The reason these supplements are marketed towards immunity is due to the vitamins and minerals they contain. Vitamins C, D, E, B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate) and minerals such as zinc, selenium, iron, and copper have all been associated with healthy immune function. These vitamins and minerals work as antioxidants to help protect and support immune cells, which keep us healthy.

Getting vitamins and minerals through food is most likely the best way to obtain them. Eating a variety of fruits, veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, nuts and seeds is a great way to ensure you are getting enough nutrients. Some studies have found that those who have vitamin and mineral deficiencies are at a much higher risk of getting bacterial and viral infections. Therefore, if you are unable to get adequate amount of these vitamins and minerals through diet, the next line of action would be to supplement them. Studies have shown that vitamin and mineral supplementation in those who are unable to get adequate amounts in the diet may help maintain allotted amounts. Although, supplementation is not entirely necessary if you are not deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral, and going over the recommended dosage per day can have adverse effects. To learn more, The National Institute of Health has an excellent data base of vitamin and mineral fact sheets, which you can find here.

Ultimately, the best way to ensure a strong immune system is healthy lifestyle behaviors. Eating a balanced diet, getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night, managing stress (see my post on mindfulness for more information and ideas on how to do this!), exercising regularly, ensuring good hygiene and hand washing procedures, drinking alcohol in moderation and avoiding smoking are all great ways to maintain immune health. Lastly, remember to check with your doctor before starting any supplements.

Stay healthy!

-Alex Grbcich, MS, RD, LD, CPT

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