What Vitamins should you take for a healthy lifestyle?
We give you the best vitamins to take as part of your healthy daily lifestyle.
Vitamin D – The sunshine vitamin
Vitamin D has been found to play a significant role in the function of the immune system. Often referred to as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin as the body primarily obtains it from the sunlight where it is synthesised in the skin. Due to lack of sunshine in the UK, vitamin D deficiency is thought to be widespread. Deficiency of this important vitamin D compromises our ability to fight infection and increases our susceptibility to illness and infection. Studies are currently underway to determine the role vitamin D may play in the prevention of respiratory infections, including COVID19. During the winter months it is now an official government recommendation for everyone in the UK to take vitamin D supplements, even more reason to consider taking a supplement as we head into a change of season.
Antioxidants are natural compounds that help protect the body from harmful free radicals which can cause damage to the cells, impairing the immune system which leads to increased susceptibility of infections and disease. Vitamin A, C, E and the minerals zinc and selenium are all powerful antioxidants which play an important role in immunity. We can increase these nutrients in our diet by consuming plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, carrots, oranges, berries, kiwi fruit and fresh pineapple are particularly good sources.
In particular, vitamin C is a key nutrient renowned for its role in immunity. Not only is vitamin C a powerful antioxidant, it has anti-inflammatory properties and supports the body’s ability to fight infection. It increases white blood cells and can block viruses from entering cells. Vitamin C has been shown to shorten the duration of the common cold, and in certain cases when people are exposed to brief periods of intense physical exercise, vitamin C has been shown to even prevent a cold. Vitamin C has also been shown to support a healthy stress response and since we know stress suppresses immunity ensuring you get enough vitamin C vital at this current time where anxiety and stress levels are high. The focus is also on vitamin C at this current time in relation to COVID19 for the role vitamin C may play in the clinical management of severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) (the severe pneumonia which has been caused by the new coronavirus strain) as randomised controlled trials are currently underway as part of the research into the benefits it may provide.
A severe deficiency of zinc is known to suppress immune function, and even mild to moderate deficiency can have a negative impact on the immune system’s ability to deal with infection. Zinc supports the function and proliferation of various immune cells. You can include zinc food sources by including meat, egg yolks, legumes, mushrooms, nuts and seeds and oats and as a therapeutic intervention and since zinc is so important, a zinc supplement may be useful where extra immune support is required. It is important to note however that if you regularly take zinc in supplement form it is important to balance this with copper, as excess zinc can cause copper deficiency and vice versa.
Selenium is a vital antioxidant and important for the immune system as it protects the immune system by preventing free radicals that can damage the body. It is believed that selenium deficiency may be linked to a host of viral outbreaks, including new strains of influenza and therefore it is of particular importance at this present time to ensure we are providing our body with adequate amounts. Selenium can be obtained through the diet by consuming brazil nuts, broccoli, brown rice, chicken, salmon and wholegrains. A supplement may be of particular use at this current time to ensure optimal levels.
Vitamin A was once known as the ‘anti-infective vitamin’ and is considered as a major determinant of immune status. It has been shown to have anti-viral activity and has the ability to prevent suppression of the immune system induced by the adrenal response. It is considered that those who are deficient are more susceptible to general infections but more importantly, to virus infections. Vitamin A is found in the diet in the form of beta-carotene of which food sources include; red, yellow and orange plant foods but it is also found in the form of retinol of which food sources include; high fat animal foods such as eggs, butter, liver and full fat dairy products. A supplement can provide targeted immune support especially when both forms are combined.
Vitamin E is a vital antioxidant and has been shown to enhance the immune system. It has also been shown to protect the adrenal glands from free radical damage during the stress response, which we know can have a detrimental effect on immune health. Deficiency is associated in significant impaired immune function and supplementation has shown to be specifically beneficial in enhancing immune function in the elderly. Food sources to include are avocado’s, cold pressed vegetable oils, dark green leafy vegetables and nuts and seeds.
Top Tips for a healthier lifestyle…
Combat the effects of stress
Whilst in certain circumstances it is impossible to avoid stress, there are ways in which we can protect ourselves and our bodies from the detrimental effects it can have, particularly on the immune system. Vital stress busting nutrients such as vitamin C and E can help to protect us as can the B vitamins which are needed for proper functioning of the nervous system. The B vitamins are particularly important as when we are stressed B vitamins are rapidly depleted from the body. Wholegrains, brown rice, fish, eggs, oats, nuts and seeds, lean white meat, dark green leafy vegetables are all good sources and should be included in the diet on a daily basis. A supplement consisting of a ‘B complex’ (a formula which contains many synergistic B vitamins together) can be of use therapeutically to support the nervous system during periods of stress and anxiety. In order to keep stress levels in check it is important to make time for daily relaxation, perhaps practicing meditation techniques or listening to relaxing music for example.
Incorporate daily exercise
Exercise in moderation reduces stress and elevates mood which has a positive effect on the immune response. Exercise also boosts the immune system by stimulating the production of vital immune cells. It also stimulates the lymphatic system. Incorporating gentle walks or cycling into your daily routine is a good place to start, however if you have an active infection it is important to rest until you start to feel better.
Work on mental Health
A person’s mental state can have a significant impact on their immune system. If we are constantly in a state of heightened anxiety and worry this will have a negative effect on adrenal function which can be extremely detrimental to immune health. For some, loneliness and isolation in these times may have had a severe impact on the way we feel and think. Taking up a social activity where you can be around others at a safe social distance may help overcome these feelings. Whilst we are faced with such uncertainty it can be difficult to adopt and maintain a positive frame of mind, but it is crucial part of building up the immune system.
Get enough sleep
Regular, good quality sleep is crucial for optimal immune function as this is when the body repairs and heals itself. There are ways in which you can improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. Firstly, including food sources of tryptophan, an amino acid which plays a role in the production of the sleep hormone melatonin may be helpful. Some examples include oats, chicken or turkey, brown rice and cottage cheese. You can also help induce restful sleep by maintaining a regular sleep routine, avoiding stimulants close to bedtime (caffeine, smoking, alcohol and the use of electrical equipment such as the television and computers), creating a calming bedtime environment by having a candlelit bath or playing calming and relaxing music. Chamomile tea has relaxing properties and so may be helpful.