Never has the immune system been more at the forefront of people’s minds than in the last two years, with many of us wondering: “How do I boost my immune system?”. Whether boosting is in fact possible – we at Leapfrog suggest supporting is more realistic – listening to your body more than usual, you may have realized that your immune system isn’t as strong as it could be. But what simple changes can you make to support it better, to fend off coughs, colds or worse? Which foods fight infections?
We often talk about the four pillars of good health at Leapfrog – regular movement, plenty of sleep, stress-management techniques and good nutrition. If we’re looking to prioritise our immune health, then what we fuel ourselves with needs to be scrutinised.
We know that certain foods aren’t good for us, but did you know they can actually impair our immune system function? For example, fried foods have been shown to weaken the immune system in several ways, including by promoting inflammation, depleting your body’s antioxidant mechanisms, inducing cellular dysfunction and negatively affecting gut bacteria.
We need to fuel ourselves with foods that contain vital nutrients, not only to make sure our bodies have enough energy to function properly, but to support our immune system. When we’ve come down with a cold or the flu, our body needs energy to build an army of immune cells to fight infection.
So, if you want to stay healthy and avoid the dreaded summer cold or a horrid bug that you catch in the depths of winter, you need to make sure you’re taking in the right vitamins, minerals and nutrients via a balanced diet.
We at Leapfrog have a food-first approach – after all, our guts love the fibre found in food. We know, though, that sometimes it’s hard to eat perfectly on a busy day and so supplements can fill the gap. In this article we take a look at the top ten vitamins, minerals and nutrients for boosting your immune system, what foods they are found in and, if needed, which supplements to consider.
Just a small disclaimer that if you have any specific allergies or health concerns, please consider talking to your doctor or health care provider before starting with any supplement.
So, let’s dive in: what are the best vitamins, minerals and nutrients for the immune system?
1. Vitamin C:
This is possibly the first vitamin that comes to mind when thinking about boosting the immune system.
A deficiency in Vitamin C can make you more susceptible to infection. Vitamin C supports your immune system by encouraging your body to produce white blood cells. White blood cells help your body to fight off viruses and bacteria.
If you’ve come down with a cold or flu, then you could consider increasing your intake of Vitamin C to 1-2g per day. It may reduce the severity and duration of the infection and help you get better faster.
Getting more Vitamin C into your diet is easy through fruit and vegetables: try adding Guavas, Bell Peppers, Oranges, Broccoli, Strawberries and Kale, as they are high in Vitamin C. Did you know that kiwi is the fruit with the highest Vitamin C, with almost twice the amount of an orange?
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can help protect against free radical damage, so not only can it keep skin young and glowing, but it can help in the fight against heart disease and cancer. So, if you aren’t eating enough fruit and veggies, now might be a good time to load up your plate.
Because of Vitamin C’s amazing potential to boost immunity, we call it the Powerful Protector at Leapfrog Remedies. That’s why it became a vital ingredient of our best-selling product, Leapfrog IMMUNE.
This mighty mineral is an immunity-boosting powerhouse that combats colds and fights inflammation, all while creating new cells and helping us process food efficiently. It assists in wound healing, and helps to balance hormones, boost energy and acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Several good reasons why it made the cut in our Leapfrog IMMUNE.
Zinc is known to play a central role in the immune system, and a deficiency of zinc will mean that you are more susceptible to a variety of pathogens. Lack of zinc in the diet has been shown to lead to low levels of B-cells and antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that are produced by the body when it detects something harmful, and they protect us from viruses, bacteria and fungi.
A study from 2020 published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that zinc supplementation could reduce cold duration by 2.25 days.
It’s important to consume zinc regularly because it helps maintain a strong immune system, but how can we make sure it’s on our plates? Zinc is easily found in many foods, including meat, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, dairy and whole grains. A sprinkling of pumpkins seeds will do the trick, but if you’re looking for zinc supplements you’ll find 5mg in every tablet of Leapfrog IMMUNE.
Lactoferrin – the hero ingredient of Leapfrog IMMUNE – is a wonder protein that works as a vital part of the immune system to protect the body against viruses and bacteria. Lactoferrin can prevent infection in the first place, but also reduces the symptoms and shortens the duration of an infection if we do pick up a cold. An antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, Lactoferrin is also good for gut health as it supports the growth of beneficial intestinal flora and kills off the bad bacteria, too.
Lactoferrin is found at the entry points of our bodies – in tears, mucus and saliva – and acts as our first defence against invading pathogens. It is also found in colostrum and breast milk and is key to building a baby’s immunity. Cow’s milk is biologically similar to human milk, and so is a useful source of lactoferrin for supplements.
Though lactoferrin is little known, studies suggest that taking lactoferrin supplements may significantly reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections, as shown in this meta-analysis of clinical trials was written by Dr Hamid Merchant – Leapfrog’s pharmaceutical consultant – and his team at the University of Huddersfield.
Can we drink or eat dairy to get the benefits? Though lactoferrin is found in milk, it is only found in small amounts – the mean concentration is around 100mg/litre. It can also be assumed that most of the lactoferrin in milk foods and drinks is denatured through the sterilization and pasteurization of dairy products.
Leapfrog’s lactoferrin is carefully extracted from milk in order to preserve its biological activity so that it packs a punch in our immune supplement Leapfrog IMMUNE. A tablet of lactoferrin, zinc and Vitamin C that we made chewable to increase its efficacy as its absorbed by the epithelial cells that line the mouth.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
Omega 3s play a vital role in maintaining the health of your brain and nervous system. Essential fats that our bodies cannot produce, omega 3’s include DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oil supplements or vegan alternatives from marine algae sources.
They are also important for keeping your heart healthy. Your body needs omega 3 fatty acids to produce hormones that control how your cells grow and divide. These fats also help keep inflammation under control.
The ideal scenario is to eat oily fish at least twice a week, but if this isn’t possible, a supplement to turn to – that we love at Leapfrog – is Bare Biology. If you suffer from arthritis, depression, migraines, asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, or any other chronic condition, then you may benefit from taking omega 3 supplements, which come in capsule form or liquid drops.
Gut health has become hallowed in the wellness world, and for good reason: a gut microbiome with a diverse array of “good bacteria” has a positive effect on our immune function, inflammation, allergies, metabolism, weight and appetite.
So, what can we feed our guts to populate it with good bacteria? Probiotics can help restore a healthy balance. Kefir, for example, is a natural fermented food that has 30 strains of probiotic bacteria and yeasts. If you drink kefir or kombucha or eat fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi, you can increase the number of bacteria in your diet by up 10 thousand times.
Not only excellent for supporting your immune system, studies show that taking probiotics daily can reduce the risk of developing allergies by up to 50%.
6. Vitamin A:
While Vitamin C might be the first vitamin we think of for immunity, it’s vitamins A and D that are the real heroes.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps maintain healthy skin, eyes, bones, teeth, and mucous membranes, protecting them from infection. At the right level, it works as an anti-inflammatory. It also stimulates the production and activity of white blood cells which are key to fighting infection.
While most people associate Vitamin A with carrots, spinach, and eggs, it can be found in many foods, including milk, meat, fish, broccoli, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and cod liver oil (in which it works with vitamin D to boost immunity).
So, what can Vitamin A do for the immune system?
When you have a cold, your immune system is working overtime to fight off the virus. As a result, your body produces large amounts of cytokines, which are proteins that help regulate inflammation and heal wounds.
During times of stress, the body releases an excess of cytokines into the bloodstream. These cytokines cause inflammation throughout the body, which leads to symptoms such as headaches, fever, fatigue, and muscle aches. If you have a cold, you may experience some of these symptoms, and Vitamin A can help with this inflammation.
Iron is needed for red blood cell formation. When iron levels are low, the body produces less hemoglobin, which makes it harder to carry oxygen around the body.
But while most people know that iron is necessary for blood production, few realize how much it contributes to immunity.
Iron deficinecy anaemia affects 1.2 billion people worldwide. If you are deficient, you may notice symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite. This can indicate a weakened immune system, which can make you more susceptible to infections.
You can find iron in dark leafy greens, red meat, chickpeas, nuts, and fortified cereals. Liver too, though this is not recommended for pregnant women.
However, it’s all about balance! Too much free iron in the body can work against you. Pathogens use iron as a food source, allowing them to survive and thrive. The immune system calls on iron-binding proteins such as lactoferrin to sequester free iron in the body and make it unavailable to the foreign invaders.Another reason why supplementing with lactoferrin can help to kick a cold to the curb. We interviewed scientist Professor Resia Pretoriuson this subject.
Selenium is a mineral vital for many aspects of health, including thyroid function and metabolism, heart health, cognition and optimal immune responses. It lowers oxidative stress in the body, reducing inflammation and encourages the body to produce pathogen-fighting cells when an infection is present.
A deficiency in selenium can impair the body’s ability to fight infection (but note that too much selenium can be inflammatory). In regions where the soil is rich in selenium, for example the United States, then deficiencies are rare. Selenium is most commonly found in seafood, mushrooms, fish, chicken, eggs, seeds, whole grains and nuts, with Brazil nuts topping the list (you can get up to 288% of the recommended daily intake in just one nut…though it is dependent on the soil).
Selenium helps keep your immune system strong by protecting cells from damage. Free radicals are produced naturally by the body during metabolism, but excessive amounts can cause cellular damage. Selenium keeps free radicals in check.
9. Vitamin D
Vitamin D has become quite an immunity boosting star in the Covid era, and for good reason. Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory effects and can enhance the function of immune cells called T cells and macrophages. It also plays a role in bone health, mood and muscle development, and keeps at bay a host of health issues including heart disease, cancer, dementia, autoimmune diseases and type 2 diabetes.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to weakened immune system, so it’s important to supplement if you live somewhere where sunlight doesn’t provide adequate amounts of UVB rays.
If you can expose your skin to sun safely, then this is an excellent source of (free!) Vitamin D. Just 10-15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure allows our skin to synthesise the sun’s UVB rays from cholesterol into the Vitamin D hormone.
There aren’t many Vitamin D rich foods to gorge on. Cod liver oil is abundant in D3, and you’ll find useful amounts of it in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel. A little in beef liver and eggs too. Otherwise look for fortified foods, like breakfast cereals and spreads. It’s worth noting tht Vitamin D only works well if you have Vitamin K2, which is produced by good bacteria in the gut. Some supplements come with both Vitamin D and K2.
Note that if you’re over 65 you generate a quarter of the Vitamin D that someone in their 20s does (combined with the fact that older adults are more likely to stay indoors for longer). As we age bone breakdown rates overtake bone building, particularly in menopausal women. Research has shown that Lactoferrin may reduce signals that promotebone loss and boost signals that promote bone growth.
A meta-analysis of clinical trials found that taking between 400 IU and 1000IU of Vitamin D each day for 12 months could reduce the risk of acute respiratory infections.
10. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant that helps to neutralize free radicals before they do any harm. It’s one of the most effective nutrients known to modulate immune function and keep our bodies in balance. Supplementation with Vitamin E has been found to enhance the function of the immune system and reduce the risk of infection.
If you want to get more Vitamin E in your diet, wheatgerm, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils are among the best sources, with significant amounts in green leafy vegetables too.
The Role of Nutrition In Immunity
Good nutrition is vital for maintaining our immune system. The body is brilliant at defending us against infection and fighting it off, but we must give it the fuel it needs to do so – the right balance of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antioxidants. Remember that psychology also plays its part. Enjoying cooking, preparing and eating meals with loved ones will reduce stress and anxiety, and a have a positive effect on our immune system too.