16 September 2020
Our body is constantly being invaded by pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. A strong and protective immune system is vital to prevent infections and diseases and to get us well through it if we catch something. Here is what you can do to keep your immune system in good balance to ensure the optimum conditions to respond to infections and diseases.
Our immune system consists of a complex collection of cells, processes and chemicals that defends our body against pathogens. A well functioning immune system requires balance and harmony. It is therefore very important to keep the immune system balanced to ensure a proper immune response.
There are several factors which impact the immune system: eating a healthy and varied diet - to get all the micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals needed and in sufficient amounts - regular exercise, adequate sleep, minimising stress and taking steps to avoid infection such as frequent hand washing.
"There is evidence that supplements with certain vitamins, minerals and herbs can improve immune response and potentially protect against disease"
For some people it can be a challenge to eat adequately healthy and varied at all times to ensure that they are getting the right amount of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. This can, for instance, be the case for elderly people with whom micronutrient malnutrition is common since they often tend to eat less and often have less variation in their diet. Furthermore, studies indicate that our immune response capability reduces as we age . Like we do not always manage to eat healthy and varied, we may also neglect to exercise sufficiently, and from time to time we may also experience stress. When we are stressed, our immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced.
There is evidence that supplements with certain vitamins, minerals and herbs can improve immune response and potentially protect against disease.
Vitamins can help keep our immune system healthy and strong
On the top list of vitamins important for immune health are vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin D.
Vitamin A plays a major role in the immune system including the innate immune response, cell mediated immunity and adaptive immune response. Studies have shown that vitamin A deficiency can lead to increased levels of pro-inflammatory compounds that diminish the immune system response [2, 3]. A natural source of vitamin A is the carotenes, especially β-carotenes, which in the intestine is broken down to vitamin A. The palm fruit is very rich in β-carotenes with up to 300 times more than carrot, leafy vegetables and tomato.
Vitamin D is essential to the function of our immune system. Studies have shown that vitamin D metabolizing enzymes and vitamin D receptors are present in many cell types including various immune cells such as antigen-presenting-cells, T cells, B cells and monocytes which are all important for fighting pathogens. Furthermore, in vivo human vitamin D supplementation studies have shown beneficial effects of vitamin D on immune function and also on autoimmune diseases [4, 5].
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an essential micronutrient which cannot be synthesized by humans. This potent anti-oxidant protects the cells against damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin C contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. Studies have shown that supplementing with vitamin C can reduce the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections, including the common cold [6, 7].
"A natural excipient for sustained release tablet formulation is a good solution to help maximize the absorption of vitamin C"
Since vitamin C is only stored in the body in very limited amounts, it is a good idea to have it in our daily diet or via a supplement. Ascorbic acid is available in different forms. If the vitamin is to be incorporated into a food, stability of the vitamin can be an issue and it may also react with other ingredients resulting in heavy deterioration. In such cases it can be relevant to consider a micro-encapsulated vitamin which has a barrier surrounding the vitamin, strong enough to permit processing without rupturing the barrier and keeping the vitamin from interacting with other ingredients.
It is also worth mentioning that the human organism cannot absorb vitamin C in high doses. A natural excipient for sustained release tablets formulation is therefore a good solution to help maximize the absorption of vitamin C as it will gradually be released into the organism. Read more: Sustained release formulation to help boost your defences.
Vitamins A, C and D are vital for immune health, but vitamins B and E also play an important role in keeping the immune system strong. Vitamin B complex is composed of eight vitamins B: B-1 (thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3 (niacin), B-5 (pantothenic acid), B-6 (pyridoxine), B-7 (biotin), B-9 (folic acid) and B-12 (cobalamin). All of these are essential and important for our immune system. Research has shown that vitamin B deficiencies could weaken the immune system [8, 9].
Vitamin E (collective term for 4 tocotrienols and 4 tocopherols) is an essential micronutrient and a potent antioxidant with the ability to modulate the immune defense. Studies have shown that vitamin E deficiency is associated with increased infectious diseases, whereas vitamin E supplements provide protection. In addition, decreased cellular immunity which occurs with age is markedly improved by the intake of vitamin E [10, 11]. A natural source of vitamin E can be obtained from the palm fruit, which consists of the full spectrum of tocotrienol isomers and α-tocopherols.
Minerals important for immune health
Besides vitamins, there are several minerals which are essential for our immune health. This is the case with zinc  which is needed for the development of immune cells and for the communication between cells. Furthermore, it is important for the inflammatory response . Studies have shown that zinc supplement may protect against respiratory tract infections such as common cold . Also, a recent study showed that zinc supplements may reduce common cold duration .
Read more about zinc: Ultra pure zinc bisglycinate.
Just like zinc, selenium is essential for our immune system. Selenium supplementation is mainly immune-stimulatory, which has been measured by a wide range of parameters including T-cell proliferation, natural killer cell activity, innate immune cell functions and many others. Recent animal studies show that selenium supplements may enhance antiviral defence against influenza viruses .
Magnesium is one of the most important micronutrients and is involved in more than 600 cellular reactions in the body. It has a strong relation with the immune system and affects both the innate and adaptive immune response .
Iron is important for both the innate and the adaptive immune response . For supplements ferrous fumarate and ferrous sulphate are commonly used iron sources. Iron is notorious for its poor taste, but that issue can be solved using microencapsulated types for superior taste and odour masking. New micro-encapsulated iron complex enables formulation of stable, chewable iron supplements and other oral dosage formulations.
Generally, minerals for use in the industry come in different forms such as citrates, gluconates, glycinates, lactates, etc., and the form used depends on the end application. Chelated minerals, which are minerals bound to compounds such as amino acids or organic acids, are often preferred by nutritionists because they are more bioavailable since their complex structures better survive passage through the stomach and small intestine where absorption into the bloodstream occur. Research suggests that certain chelated minerals are more effective, hence they may allow for reduction of the total amount to be consumed in order to reach healthy levels .
The purity of minerals is another important issue to keep in mind in order to make sure that the end product meets European Regulation (231/2012 & 1881/2006) and the ICH and USP elemental impurity guidelines for heavy metal content in food supplements.
Immune boosters from nature
There is a long tradition for using botanicals to support immune health. Plant extracts such as rosehip (Rosa canina L.), acerola (Malpighia glabra L.), blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum L.) and sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides L.) are all naturally high in Vitamin C.
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia DC) is one of the most popular herbs worldwide and is renowned for its beneficial effects on the immune system. Numerous studies have found that echinacea may help the immune system combat infections and viruses, contributing to faster recovery from illness. Studies have indicated that preparations from certain species and plant part possess antiviral activities[21, 22]. This means that extracts of certain echinacea species could potentially have an effect on cold and influenza.
Many plant extracts are rich in flavonoids which is a class of polyphenolic plant metabolites. Anthocyanins are colored pigments belonging to the flavonoids. Flavonoids have antioxidative properties helping to fight off free radicals that cause oxidative stress in our body. In addition, anthocyanins possess potential antimicrobial activities and protect against various diseases .
Black elderberry (Sambus nigra) has traditionally been used in folk medicine to treat infections, but is now being further researched. Elderberries are very rich in anthocyanins. Furthermore, they also contain a variety of nutrients: vitamins (A, B1, B2, B6, B9, C and E), trace elements such as Cu, Zn, Fe and minerals such as K, Ca and Mg, as well as phytochemicals such as carotenoids, phytosterols and polyphenols. Most of these nutrients may support the immune system. Elderberries have also shown antibacterial and antiviral activities in in vitro studies . A recent study from Australia furthermore showed that extract from black elderberry could reduce cold duration and symptoms in air-travellers .
Propolis is bee’s glue and a natural immune booster. More than 600 compounds have been found in propolis and the majority of these are polyphenols (flavonoids, phenolic acid, and their esters), which can fight diseases and damage in the body. Propolis appears to have both anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties, and recent research strongly suggests propolis as one of the most promising immunomodulation agents .
When formulating supplements with botanical extracts, it is important to consider sourcing from suppliers guaranteeing full traceability from field to final packaging and accurate quantification of bioactive compounds. It is also advisable to choose extracts from botanical species certified by DNA barcoding analysis.
Digestive health & the immune system
A substantial part of our immune system is actually in our gastrointestinal tract. It is estimated that approx. 70% of the cells contributing to the immune system are found in the gut where microbiota plays a fundamental role in the induction, training and function of the host immune system. It is therefore very important to keep the gut healthy for proper functioning of the immune system. A way to strengthen the gut and enhance overall health is to take prebiotics such as inulin and oligofructose and probiotics such as live bacteria and yeast.
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