People who are malnourished are more vulnerable to infections and sickness because their immune system lacks the resources to function properly. Studying diseases in countries of high poverty have highlighted the importance of nutrition and healthy functioning of the immune system. However, the Western world is not too far behind due to poor nutritional choices leading to potential deficiencies.

Here are the most important micronutrients, vitamins and phytochemicals that support healthy functioning of the immune system:


Collagen is an important building block in various immune system functions. For example, certain endogenous lectins such as collectins (collagen-containing C-type lectins) abundant in liver, lungs, placenta and kidney have been identified to mediate innate host defense against influenza virus infections and prevent secondary infections. Collectins are a vital part of the innate immune systemin the lungs.

Collectins are thought to recognize and interact preferentially with carbohydrate structures that are arranged in distinct patterns on the microbial cell surface. Collectins generally mediate pathogen clearance via com- plement activation and by aggregating cells together. This is beneficial for the immune system and pathogen killing.

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    Curcumin, the active compound of turmeric, has been shown to embody anti-inflammatory properties that can help in treating chronic pain and infections. It also helps to boost glutathione levels in the body. Curcumin and turmeric also have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties in humans.

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    Ubiquinone (coenzyme Q10) acts as a contributor to the electron transport chain. It is a fat-soluble compound that helps to generate ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and hence energy. It has been used for decades as a dietary supplement. Low cellular ubiquinone levels may be a predisposing factor for various illnesses due to insufficient aerobic energy production in the cells.46 With low energy production the body will not be able to fight the intruders. Ubiquinone reduces oxidative stress and preserves macrophages in the immune system.

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    Vitamin B3, or niacin, supplementation increases NAD+ biosynthesis.37 Pharmacological doses of niacin may help the immune system fight against severe infections like HIV and tuberculosis, but the research is still preliminary.

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    Vitamin C is an antioxidant that animals produce in response to stress. Humans have lost that ability during our evolution and have to obtain it from diet. Vitamin C helps to recycle oxidized glutathione back into active glutathione. Based on a large meta-analysis, regular intake of vitamin C has not been shown to prevent colds but it can shorten the duration of colds (by 8 % in adults and 14 % in children) with slightly less severe symptoms. Athletes who take vitamin C regularly are half as likely to catch a cold as athletes who don’t. In stressed mice, big dosing of vitamin C helped to prevent from influenza (H1N1)-induced pneumonia.

    The body is able to store 300–2 000 mg of vitamin C in itself. Vitamin C is stored throughout the body, but especially in white blood cells (in the immune system), eyes, adrenals, pituitary gland and the brain. In times of disease and infections, in particular, the reserves are spent quickly for acute needs. Therefore, if you notice yourself catching the cold or even the flu (influenza), it is a wise decision to also begin taking big doses of vitamin C within 24 hours of the first symptoms.

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    Vitamin D plays a key role in regulating the balance of the immune system. Vitamin D, for example, acts as a source of power for T-cells. Without vitamin D, T-cells never wake up from their dormancy, which leads to impaired immune system function. People with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to have the flu and colds.

    Optimize your vitamin D3 levels either with getting enough sunlight or with supplementation. It is also crucial to know your blood levels of vitamin D3 by measuring them regularly. Only this way it is possible to implement the right dosages when doing supplementation. Low vitamin D3 levels may be due to chronic low level inflammation.

    If you are using a nutritional supplement, measure the blood levels again after 3 months. This will help you assess how your vitamin D3 levels will change. For many, the recommended dose is 50–100 micrograms a day, but only if the level of vitamin D3 in the blood is low or is not at the target level (usually less than 70 nmol/L).

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    Zinc is important for hormone production and immunity. It is also known for fighting against infections. Low zinc status in the body can cause gastrointestinal problems and increase the risk for pneumonia. However, be reasonable with supplementation: very high zinc supplementation can cause toxicity and stomach pain.

    Zinc is the first supplement to take immediately if you feel yourself even a little sick with any of the typical flu symptoms: running nose and nasal congestion, sore throat, headache, fatigue/ weakness, coughing, muscle ache and fever over 38 C.

    Regular use of zinc may reduce the incidences of flu, at least in children. According to studies in children, regular use of zinc can prevent the flu.

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