Your immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs that work together to keep you healthy. A diet rich in nutrient-dense foods can help to support your immune system, as there are a range of important vitamins and minerals that help the immune system to function normally. You can read more about this in our guide to Immune System Support Foods.
As well as a healthy, balanced diet, there are other lifestyle factors, such as exercise, that can help to keep your immune system working normally. You can learn more about this in our guide to Supporting Your Immune System.
What vitamins are good for the immune system?
Your immune system requires a range of different vitamins and minerals to keep it functioning optimally. Vitamin C and vitamin D are well known for their role in supporting immune function but there are other vitamins that play a role here, including vitamin A, as well as certain B vitamins: B6 (pyridoxine), folic acid (vitamin B9) and B12 (cobalamin). A number of minerals also help to support immune function, including iron, copper, selenium and zinc.
1. Vitamin D and the immune system
Vitamin D contributes to the normal function of the immune system, as well as having a role in the process of cell division. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the body’s preferred form of vitamin D, which it produces when our skin is directly exposed to sunlight containing UVB radiation. You can read more about vitamin D3 here.
Vitamin D is found in small amounts in certain animal foods, such as egg yolks and fatty fish. You can also supplement your diet by taking vitamin D tablets.
2. Vitamin C and the immune system
Vitamin C contributes to the normal function of the immune and nervous systems, and helps to protect your cells against the effects of free radicals.
Vitamin C is found in a wide array of fruits and vegetables, including kiwi fruits, peppers, citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, broccoli, potatoes and strawberries. You can read more about The Best Vitamin C Foods in our handy guide.
3. Vitamin A and the immune system
Vitamin A contributes to the maintenance of the normal function of the immune system and the maintenance of normal mucous membranes. These membranes are found on the linings of the nose, mouth, lungs, and stomach, and such form an important barrier for the body.
The best food sources of vitamin A include liver (avoid if pregnant), orange and yellow vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins, tomatoes and leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach and broccoli.
4. Vitamin B and the immune system
The B Vitamins are a group of eight water-soluble vitamins, three of which help to support the immune system: B6 (pyridoxine), folic acid (vitamin B9) and B12 (cobalamin). Vitamins B6 and B12 also support normal functioning of the nervous systems and normal psychological function. B12 and folic acid both contribute to a reduction in tiredness and fatigue.
Vitamin B6 is found in a range of foods, including salmon, chicken breast, potatoes, avocado and bananas. Folic acid can be obtained from eating pulses, such as lentils, leafy greens, including spinach and kale, and certain fruits. Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal foods, such as meat, fish, milk and eggs. It’s also added to a range of fortified foods, such as plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals. You can find out more in our guide to The Best Sources Of Vitamin B.
5. Copper and the immune system
Copper is an essential trace mineral that helps to support normal immune function. Copper works alongside another important immune supporting mineral, zinc.
The best food sources of copper are liver (avoid if pregnant), oysters, shiitake mushrooms, nuts, such as almonds or cashews, and leafy greens like spinach and kale.
6. Iron and the immune system
Iron is a mineral that’s best known for its key role to carry oxygen in the haemoglobin of red blood cells throughout the body. Iron also contributes to normal function of the immune system. The body’s ability to absorb iron is increased when consumed alongside vitamin C.
Food sources of iron include liver (avoid during pregnancy), red meat, beans, nuts, fortified breakfast cereals and soy bean flour. Read more about foods that are high in iron here.
7. Selenium and the immune system
Selenium contributes to the normal function of the immune system, as well as helping to protect cells from oxidative stress. You can learn more about this important mineral in our Guide to Selenium
Brazil nuts are the richest source of selenium, with 28g (six to eight nuts) providing a whopping 544μg of selenium, so you can go over the upper limit if you eat too many. You also find selenium in a range of seafood, especially shellfish.
8. Zinc and the immune system
Zinc is an essential trace element which is vital for many biological functions and plays a crucial role in over 200 enzymes in the human body. One of the main benefits of zinc is that it helps to support normal immune system function, as well as the protection of cells from oxidative stress. Zinc has numerous other benefits, from supporting normal vision to contributing to normal fertility and reproduction. You can read about What Does Zinc Do For The Body? if you want to learn more.
Red meat is an excellent source of zinc, as are shellfish, such as oysters and mussels. Dairy products, such as milk and cheese, are high in zinc, whilst eggs contain some. Vegan sources of zinc include chickpeas, lentils and beans, as well as seeds, like hemp, and nuts.
As you can see there are a wide range of vitamins and minerals that all help to support your immune system function. If you don't think you're getting enough of these important nutrients from your diet every day, you could consider some immune system vitamins as an insurance to supplement your intake.