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Immune Supporting Nutrition

Monday June 1, 2020

Viridian - Healthy Foods

Photo caption: Nutrients to support immune function would ideally be achieved through eating a well-balanced and diverse diet. 

A healthy diet supported with supplemental nutrition has been recognised as an important factor in the protection from viral infections, according to new research.

In the review led by Phillip Calder, Professor of Nutritional Immunology, at the University of Southampton and an international team of researchers, it makes clear nutritional recommendations for the use of food supplements as a dietary aid to support the immune system during an infection, calling on public health officials to incorporate nutritional strategies to improve public health.

Viral infections cause a variety of symptoms that include excess mucus, coughs, headaches, joint aches, and stomach upset. Generally viral infections last around five days, but in some cases the infection can be prolonged and persist for two or three weeks, especially in people who have other health conditions.

Professor Calder states in the review: “Several vitamins, including vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and folate; and trace elements, including zinc, iron, selenium, magnesium, and copper, play important and complementary roles in supporting both the innate and adaptive immune systems. Deficiencies or suboptimal status in micronutrients negatively affect immune function and can decrease resistance to infections.”

The paper recognises optimal intake of all these nutrients ideally would be achieved through eating a well-balanced and diverse diet. However, Professor Calder and the research team comments: “This can be difficult to accomplish for the general population. Indeed, it is generally accepted that nutrient inadequacies and deficiencies are widespread,” contributing to a decreased resistance to infections.

Vitamin D is an example where it is difficult to consume sufficient amounts of the nutrient through dietary sources. Although vitamin D can be transformed from unprotected sun exposure in the UK summer for those living in the southern regions, the same levels would be difficult to achieve in the body for those residing in the northern regions during the rest of the year.

Similarly for vitamin C, although widespread in food, populations that follow the western diet can be deficient and subsequently regular intake of vitamin C foods is necessary, however vitamin C is a nutrient that is highly fragile and denatures in response to light, chopping and cooking.

The research paper calls for a set of clear nutritional recommendations:

  • Supplementation with the stated micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids is a safe, effective, and low-cost strategy to help support optimal immune function and therefore reduce the risk and effects of infection.
  • Supplementation above the Recommended Dietary Allowance, but within recommended upper safety limits, for specific nutrients such as vitamins C and D is warranted.
  • A call to public health officials to include nutritional strategies in their recommendations to improve public health.

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The review concludes: “Optimal nutrient intake, including supplementing above the RDA for certain immune-supporting vitamins, promotes optimal immune function, helps to control the impact of infections, and could help limit the emergence of novel, more virulent strains of pathogenic viruses.


“We, therefore, strongly encourage public health officials to also include nutritional strategies in their arsenal to improve public health and to limit the impact of seasonal and emerging viral infections.”


Calder, P., et al. Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System Is an Important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections. Nutrients. 2020, 12, 1181.


Others in this series:

 Why Diet Matters


 The Power of Vitamin C


 Vitamin D and Immunity


 The importance of self-care

The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.

Viridian explains Why Diet Matters


TAGS: NewsLoveNHSLoveYourself, Diet, Immunity


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