Published Dec 28, 2020
Every day we come into contact with things that would make us ill if they got into our bodies – from toxic particles to the multitude of viruses and bacteria that swarm through the natural world. Our immune system is the body’s front line of defence against such pathogens (disease-causing substances), and they are remarkably successful: in a hazardous world most of us don’t fall ill most of the time.
This front line is in fact a multitude of connected physical systems, from the white blood cells that attack bacteria in our bloodstreams to the coughing and sneezing reflexes that expel irritants from our respiratory tracts. The strength of our immune systems closely reflects our general state of health. Our bodies work hard to keep us healthy – and the healthier we are the easier it is to ward off disease and stay healthy.
Exercise and physical activity is important but diet really lies at the core of health. Fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, fibre and similar foods supply the nutrients we need to function each day and also help us to stave off infection and recover more quickly when pathogens do evade our immune systems. But planning healthy meals and shopping for the freshest ingredients is easier said than done if you’re trying to balance family commitments with long hours spent at work.
Vitamin supplements can help to plug that gap, ensuring we get all the nutrients we need even if we aren’t eating a perfect diet. But just what is a vitamin?
Vitamins are what nutritionists term ‘essential micronutrients’ – that is to say, organic chemicals essential to the proper functioning of our bodies. Because we cannot produce them ourselves, or produce in the quantities we need, we must obtain them from food.
Pharmacies and health food shops offer a wide range of vitamin supplements to suit every budget, from the cheap and cheerful to high quality, high cost options. Taking a supplement with your breakfast each morning is an easy way to ensure your immune system is fully primed for the challenges of the day ahead.
These are the six most important immune system vitamins:
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A plays a central role in the development of the immune system, helping to ensure our cells and bodily fluids respond effectively to pathogens and infections. Vitamin A also relieves inflammation.
2. Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is involved in the response of the immune system to many illnesses, so people with a deficiency are more vulnerable to sickness.
3. Vitamin B12
Meanwhile, vitamin B12 helps the body produce the white blood cells needed to tackle invading pathogens and promote immune function and health.
4. Vitamin C
Anyone who has ever taken vitamin C to ward off a developing cold or flu will be aware of this vitamin’s role in a healthy immune system. It stimulates cellular function and boosts the body’s response to developing infections. It is also a potent antioxidant, slowing down the cellular damage caused by oxygen, which contributes to many illnesses.
5. Vitamin D
A healthy supply of vitamin D helps prevent infection and discourage the development of autoimmune disorders in which the body attacks itself. Examples of the latter include arthritis and coeliac disease (intolerance to dietary gluten).
6. Vitamin E
One of the most essential vitamins for immune systems, vitamin E boosts the production of T cells, a type of white blood cell which triggers the correct response to invading pathogens.
And there is another way to stay ahead of the game: a DNA test taken at home. Every one of us is a unique combination of genes inherited from our parents, and this in turn is affected by our lifestyle and environment.
Learning about the different ways in which our body responds to food can help us plan the optimal diet and devise a health and fitness plan unique to us. The myDNA nutrition and fitness test is quick, easy and reliable. It comes complete with its own app offering ongoing support, regular new insights and compelling content that will encourage you to get fit and stay that way.
Written by Bev Walton, BSc Nutritional Science
I achieved a First-Class Honours degree in BSc Nutritional Science, Nutrition Sciences from the University of Reading and now have over 35 years experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for magazines and websites as well as ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I’m also a proud member of the Guild of Food writers.