The immune system is complicated–and because it’s made of several different parts working together, and isn’t just one entity, it can be hard to know what will improve the system on the whole. We still have a lot to learn about how the parts of our immune system work together, what affects them positively or negatively, and what role–if any–lifestyle factors have to play.
Nutrition does play a role–if you are malnourished, you are more vulnerable to infectious disease, though the reason for the connection is not fully understood. Research into how certain micronutrient deficiencies could affect immune response is underway, and some animal studies have indicated that there is a connection. But we just don’t have the evidence yet to say that taking any one particular vitamin or mineral supplement is going to boost your immune functioning–though we can say that getting an overall solid balance of nutrients is important for health.
Several of the vitamins we get through diet and supplementation are important for proper immune function. Vitamin A plays a key role in infection, and a deficiency of the vitamin is associated with decreased immunity and an increased risk of infectious diseases. Several studies show that vitamin B6 deficiencies can depress our immune response in different ways, according to Harvard’s medical school, and that supplementing to correct the deficiencies helps. And research has tied particular vitamins like vitamin D and vitamin E to specific conditions.
Trace minerals may also play a role in keeping our immune system working well. Some research has tied lower selenium levels in the blood to higher risk for several kinds of cancers, for example. In particular, zinc is essential for the proper functioning of immune cells, and a deficiency affects our T cells and other important immune cells. However, Harvard advises that taking too much zinc can actually have the opposite effect and inhibit your immune function, so pay attention to the daily limits.
Healthy Living is the Key
Above all, living an overall healthy lifestyle is your best defense for boosting immunity, Harvard Medical School says. If you smoke, quit. Eat a healthy and varied diets with lots of fruits and vegetables. Exercise regularly. Get enough sleep. And wash your hands regularly–this is your best method for preventing colds, the flu, and other contagious illnesses.