publication date: Apr 1, 2020
author/source: Mike Wakeman
Our immune system has the very important job of helping to protect the body against infections and other external and internal threats. But how does it protect us? And how can we help support our immune system?
Here’s a fast check list as to how:
- Physical (eg skin, epithelial lining of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts)
- Biochemical barriers (eg secretions, mucous and gastric acid)
- Numerous different immune cells and antibodies
But an optimal immune system is dependent on a healthy immune system, so we need to also do our bit to help ensure our bodies have all they need to be fighting fit and are prepared to deal with challenges like infections. Studies have shown that if our nutrition is poor, then our immune response is impaired, which may leave us more susceptible to infections.
And if our body is in the process of fighting off an infection, this could also strip us of some essential immunity fighting nutrients. In addition, we can lose our appetite when fighting an infection, which in turn lowers the amount of nutrients we are consuming. We need to ensure we are consuming the right foods before, during and after to support recovery.
Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) have vital roles to play to help maintain a good immune system. Micronutrients most needed to sustain immunocompetence (functioning of the immune system) include vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6 and B12, folic acid, iron, selenium, and zinc. However, nutrient intakes have not improved over the last 20 years and in many cases declined according to government surveys. And certain micronutrients may be more likely to be insufficient at different stages of the life course.
Immunity, nutrition and golden age years
An inadequate intake of micronutrients at any stage of life affects various functions within the immune system, manifesting in decreased resistance to infections and an increase in the severity of symptoms.
And as the body ages so does the immune system.
Most, but not all, people over the age of 60–65 years can experience some immune dysregulation that makes them less able to respond to immune challenges, and their ability to respond to pathogens and allergens decreases. At this stage of life, it is crucial that nutrient intakes and the diet are watched and reviewed.
Older women, who usually have a longer life expectancy compared to men, are often at higher risk of deficiency, especially for vitamins B12, A, C, and D, iron and zinc.
A sufficient supply of antioxidants (eg vitamin C, selenium, and zinc) is required to combat the oxidative stress that is a major factor in immune dysregulation in older people. However, healthy ageing people lose their ability to produce antioxidants in the body compared with younger adults.
A low vitamin C status also increases susceptibility to infections, possibly because low levels of antioxidants such as vitamin C are unable to counteract oxidative stress.
Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of infection, which is probably related to decreased activity of vitamin D receptors, which are found throughout the immune system.
Mike Wakeman is a clinical pharmacist and advisor to Alive! a unique evidence backed, supplement range packed with 26 fruits and vegetables, with products for all ages. Available in tablets and Soft Jells, with a vast product range including formulations for the whole family and bespoke products to cater for women, men and the healthy growth of children, the ALIVE! portfolio provides specific formulations to suit all nutrient requirements at every life stage. And they are suitable for vegetarians.