Why are nutrients so important for the immune system? When you listen to a Medical Herbalist, Naturopath or Nutritionist talk about the immune system, inevitably the topic of nutrients comes up. White blood cells are the main fighters in the immune army. To make these particular type of blood cells we need some key nutrients. So here is a rundown of what is needed for healthy immune cells:

  • Zinc – Zinc is needed in amounts of 15mg daily in order to make white blood cells. Zinc concentrations around cells in the nasal cavity disrupts the common cold from infecting the tissues. Zinc has been shown to shorten the duration of a common cold as well as the amount of times a person catches a cold. Zinc is found in nuts, seeds and oysters.
  • Vitamin C – Vitamin C is involved in the replication of white blood cells and is used up quicker during an infection. Statistically Vitamin C can shorten the duration of a cold.  Vitamin C should be supplemented in 200mg daily. Vitamin C is found in fruits espeically Kiwifruit, citrus fruit, melons and berries.
  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D is an immune system regulator. This means it helps with aspects involved with both the creation of the immune cells and the decreasing or turning off of immune cells. This is important as the immune system is complex and has many parts to it. When we need it we want it primed and ready, and when the challenge is over we want it turned off.  Vitamin D is essential over winter to help protect from respiratory illness and is a must for those living in New Zealand and with darker skin as we normally get it through sunlight on the skin.
  • Vitamin A – This is essential for lung function and a healthy immune response within the lungs. Vitamin A is involved in the immune system in a number of ways. Vitamin A activates the B and T cells that harness the immune response to a viral or bacterial infection. It also helps enhance phagocyte and antibody production. If you dont eat liver regularly then Vitamin A is worth taking for a month or two to build it up and we recommend doing this yearly.
  • B12 & Folate – To make new cells we need Vitamin B12 and Folate. These are necessary B vitamins for all new cell production and in particular the red and white blood cells which are made us daily. Vitamin B12 is found in meat and liver and Folate is found in fresh vegetables.
  • Selenium – Selenium is a trace mineral needed in amounts of 150mcg daily. In New Zealand soils are supplemented as they are low. Selenium is needed to mount a proper immune response. Selenium enhances Lymphocyte production specifically. Selenium can be found in seafood and Brazil nuts.

But perhaps our best allies in this area are the herbal extracts from Echinacea, Pelargonium, Andrographis, Astragalus, Reishi, Elderberry and many more.

Come in store to talk to us or book in for a one-on-one consultation to find out what kinds of foods and herbs will be best for your immmune system based on your indiviual needs.

References: Braun & Cohen, Herbs & Natural Supplements. An Evidence Based Guide, 2007

Simone Reddington is the founder of the Apothecary, a Medical Herbalist and thinker. She holds a degree in Psychology and is a professional member of the New Zealand Association of Medical Herbalists.