How to Boost Your Immune System With 5 Common Vitamins

Vitamin deficiencies can weaken your immune system. Boosting the levels through diet or supplements can help boost your immunity.

Feeling under the weather? Worried about catching a bug the next time one begins to make its way through your family and friends?

Post-pandemic, many people are realizing that their immune system could do with a boost. Our immune system is our first line of defense against the viruses and bacteria we encounter every day, so it pays to make sure yours is fighting fit, and one of the key ways to maintain immune health is by supplementing with immune-boosting vitamins and nutrients.

Approximately 30% of the United States population is at risk for at least one vitamin deficiency,[1] meaning that our bodies lack the essential nutrients needed to keep our immune system strong. However, we can give our immune system a helping hand by adopting a supplement routine designed to strengthen it — and the good news is that there are five easy-to-find vitamins perfect for the job.

Vitamin C isn’t just to prevent scurvy; it is also important for a healthy immune system.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin with a wide variety of benefits, but one of its main functions is supporting a healthy immune system. Our bodies cannot make vitamin C on their own, so it’s necessary to obtain it through diet or supplements.

As an antioxidant, vitamin C fights illness and disease and helps grow and repair tissue. It’s also important for healing wounds and maintaining healthy bones, teeth, and skin. It’s involved in many of the body’s most essential functions, so it’s no surprise that it also performs an important task in immune health.

Vitamin C supports the immune system by protecting against pathogens and bacteria[2] and helps white blood cells function more efficiently, helping the skin form a stronger barrier against the big nasties of the outside world.[3] It’s also been shown to potentially reduce the severity of the common cold![4]

Vitamin B6 is important for immune health. You can get it from supplements or food, such as beef liver, poultry, salmon, chickpeas, bananas, and dark leafy greens.

Vitamin B6

As one of the eight B vitamins, vitamin B6 is essential for cell metabolism and the continued function of your red blood cells. But it also helps your body maintain a healthy immune system.

Vitamin B6 levels have been shown to be low in older adults with poor immune response,[5] and it’s no surprise — vitamin B6 assists more than 100 enzymes in the body to perform essential functions.

Research suggests that supplementation of vitamin B6 can strengthen the immune system,[6] but that’s not all: this little vitamin comes with plenty of other health benefits. Along with strengthening your immune system, vitamin B6 can fight depression,[7] help with premenstrual syndrome,[8] and fight cognitive decline.[9]

Vitamin E is reportedly very effective at boosting your immune system.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E’s star has grown in recent years as research discovers more about the benefits of this fat-soluble nutrient. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that’s essential for keeping the immune system strong and healthy. In fact, vitamin E has been called one of the most effective nutrients when it comes to boosting the immune system.[10]

Along with boosting the immune system, vitamin E keeps skin and eyes healthy and also has powerful antioxidant qualities. As an antioxidant, vitamin E fights free radicals — unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and premature aging. With free radicals contributing to many chronic health problems, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes, it’s well worth adding vitamin E to your diet to fight them off.

But vitamin E’s main function is supporting the growth of T cells — one of two primary types of cells in the body that fight infection. Vitamin E has been shown to increase the amount of T cells in the body,[11] creating an overall stronger immune system and lowering the risk of infection.

Zinc isn’t technically a vitamin. It is a trace mineral. But it is an important nutrient for strengthening your immune system.

Zinc

Zinc is one of the most useful trace minerals to have in your bathroom cabinet, fulfilling many different purposes. Zinc improves eyesight, helps the body process nutrients, and helps wounds heal faster [12], but one of its key benefits is strengthening and boosting the immune system.

Our bodies do not naturally produce zinc, which means that it must be obtained through diet or supplements — but once obtained, zinc is the best friend your immune system will ever have.

Zinc is important for the development and function of immune cells,[12,13] as well as boosting the activity of T cells to protect the body from infection.[14] Zinc also helps fight infection: In fact, a review of seven different studies found that zinc can reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33%![15]

Vitamin D is really important for immune health. If you don’t get enough sunshine, it is important to maintain your vitamin D levels through supplements or diet.

Vitamin D

Our bodies produce vitamin D naturally when we enjoy the sunshine, but for night owls and people living in less sunny countries, vitamin D supplements are an easier way to get enough of this useful vitamin into the bloodstream. Either way, vitamin D is important for growth and development, resistance to illness, and, most critically, for helping the immune system function the way it should.[16]

Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk of infection and disease, particularly diseases like arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.[17] Studies have also shown that vitamin D may reduce the risk of infection from flu and Covid-19.[18]

Along with boosting the immune system, vitamin D potentially helps decrease the risk of depression and anxiety.[19] If you have ever felt like your mood gets worse during winter, a lack of vitamin D from exposure to the sun could be why — but it’s easily fixed with supplements.

Each vitamin on this list comes with a host of benefits besides immune health, promising healthier skin and hair, faster wound healing, improved cognitive health, and more — but it’s their immune-strengthening qualities that make them worthy of attention.

Our immune system protects us each day, performing mostly unseen work to keep us safe from infections, illnesses, and viruses. Every immune system is different, but with a large body of research showing that vitamins provide essential nutrients to keep our immune systems functioning properly, adding immune-boosting supplements to our diet is one of the best defenses we have against illness.

  1. Bird, Julia K.: “Risk of Deficiency in Multiple Concurrent Micronutrients in Children and Adults in the United States”, June 24 2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537775/
  2. Carr, Anita C. et al: “Vitamin C and Immune Function”, November 2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707683/
  3. Raman, Ryan: “7 Impressive Ways Vitamin C Benefits Your Body”, February 18 2020, halthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-c-benefits
  4. Chalker, Elizabeth et al: “Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold”, 31 January 2013, cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full
  5. Brennan, Dan: “Health Benefits of Vitamin B6”, November 16 2020, webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-vitamin-b6
  6. Qian, Bingjun et al: “Effects of Vitamin B6 Deficiency on the Composition and Functional Potential of T Cell Populations”, March 6 2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5358464/
  7. Hvas, Anne-Mette et al: “Vitamin B6 level is associated with symptoms of depression”, November 2004, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15479988/
  8. Wyatt, Katrina M. et al: “Efficacy of vitamin B-6 in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: systematic review”, May 22 1999, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC27878/
  9. Malouf, R. et al: “The effect of vitamin B6 on cognition”, 2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14584010
  10. Lewis, Erin Diane et al: “Regulatory role of vitamin E in the immune system and inflammation”, April 1 2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7011499/
  11. Lee, Ga Young et al: “The Role of Vitamin E in Immunity”, November 1 2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6266234/
  12. Kubala, Jillian: “Zinc: Everything You Need to Know”, November 14 2020, healthline.com/nutrition/zinc
  13. Prasad, Ananda S.: “Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells”, May 2008, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2277319/
  14. Haase, Hajo et al: “The immune system and the impact of zinc during aging”, 2009, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2702361/
  15. Hemilä, Harri: “Zinc lozenges and the common cold: a meta-analysis comparing zinc acetate and zinc gluconate, and the role of zinc dosage”, May 2 2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28515951/
  16. Meeks, Sade: “Vitamin D Benefits”, January 14 2022, healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/benefits-vitamin-d
  17. Martens, Pieter-Jan: “Vitamin D’s Effect on Immune Function”, April 28 2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7281985/
  18. Grant, William B. et al: “Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Risk of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections and Deaths”, April 2 2020, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32252338/
  19. Cheng, Ying-Chih et al: “The effect of vitamin D supplement on negative emotions: A systematic review and meta-analysis”, June 2020, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32365423/

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  • Robin Whittle

    Immune cells rely on circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D at 50 ng/mL 125 nmol/L (1 part in 20,000,000 my mass) or more for their intracrine (inside each cell) and paracrine (to nearby cells) signaling systems to work properly. With lower levels, these signaling systems cannot work well, so the cell’s ability to respond to its changing circumstances is limited. This results in weaker innate and adaptive immune responses to bacterial, viral and fungal pathogens and to greater risks of self-destructive inflammatory (indiscriminate cell-destroying) immune responses, which drive severe COVID-19, sepsis, Kawasaki disease, MIS-C etc.

    These signaling systems are unrelated to the one hormonal function of the vitamin D compounds: a very low level of circulating 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, produced by the kidneys, to regulate calcium-phosphate-bone metabolism. Unfortunately, intracrine and paracrine signaling is not well understood by medical professionals or even by many vitamin D researchers. Nor is the 50 ng/mL requirement (Quraishi et al. 2014 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamasurgery/fullarticle/1782085) widely enough appreciated.

    There’s very little vitamin D3 cholecalciferol (which the liver converts to circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D) in food or multivitamins. It can be produced by UV-B skin exposure, but this always damages DNA and so raises the risk of skin cancer. Supplementation is the only way most people can maintain 50 ng/mL or more 25-hydroxyvitamin D all year round.

    For 70 kg 154 lb bodyweight, without obesity, 0.125 to 0.175 milligrams (5000 to 7000 IU) vitamin D3 a day will attain the desired 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in most people after about 3 months. “5000 IU” sounds like a lot, but it is a gram every 22 years, and vitamin D3 costs USD$2.50 a gram ex-factory.

    Official recommendations to supplement 400 to 800 IU vitamin D3 are based on the recommended daily allowance calculation of the US-Canadian Institute of Medicine 2011 report. Their calculation was completely erroneous (Heaney et al. 2015 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamasurgery/fullarticle/1782085) but has never been corrected, so many doctors still believe it is valid.

    For rapid repletion of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in clinical emergencies such as COVID-19, a single high (e.g. 10 mg 400,000 IU) dose of vitamin D3 works in about 4 days. For 70 kg bodyweight, a single oral dose of 1 mg calcifediol (the pharma name for 25-hydroxyvitamin D) raises levels safely over 50 ng/mL in 4 hours.

    Please read the research articles cited at: https://vitamindstopscovid.info/00-evi/ .

    In addition to those nutrients mentioned, magnesium is also vital for immune system and calcium-bone health. Magnesium deficiency is common and easily corrected. Magnesium oxide is poorly bioavailable and magnesium citrate can cause GI distress, so the the chelated forms are probably best.

  • Elizabeth Davis

    A vitamin d test should be routine (and paid for by insurance) for everyone. The reduction of sickness and costs of medical care would be an astronomical number. Supplements need to lose their stigma as being expensive urine. Yup, still hear that today by many health care providers. And, of course, overdose. That’s why blood levels should be checked routinely.

  • Kenmore

    Thanks to Robin Whittle and others who take the time to share what is sometimes hard earned knowledge, which the rest of us can all benefit from simply by reading, and applying the knowledge to our own situations! Kudos!

  • Ken

    and Kudos to the folks at Scitechdaily and their contributors, who duly send so much useful information to our inboxes, daily!