Top 10 questions to ask yourself to keep up your immune system
Published: 5 October, 2022 | 5'
How to keep your immune system healthy, 10 frequently asked questions answered by experts
The immune system is a group of cellular elements and processes that are activated to protect our organism from the attack of a foreign body.
To keep it in optimal condition, it is important to pay attention to nutrition. Dr. Luis Gutiérrez Serantes, a doctor and communicator, helps us to answer the most frequently questions about how to keep the immune system ‘on top of its game’.
1. What times of the year affect the immune system?
In the healthy population, there are different immune functions depending on genetics, age, sex, habits such as smoking, alcohol consumption, sedentary life, stress, etc. Even women are affected by the menstrual cycle stage they are in.
Seasonal changes are also one of these factors that affect the immune system, especially colder temperatures can also affect the efficiency of the immune system, causing the usual discomfort in the throat and nose, among others.
2. How do I know if my immune system is not “on top of its game”?
There are some signs or symptoms that may mean that the defences of the body may not be “on top of their game” and it is important to pay attention to them. Some of these symptoms are:
- Excessive tiredness.
- Weak hair or excessive hair loss.
- Recurrent infections such as herpes.
- Frequent dry eyes.
- Simple illnesses that take longer than usual to get better such as flu.
- Wounds that take too long to recover.
This is why taking care of our diet all year round is vital to keep our defences working properly.
3. Are there foods that help our immune system?
All foods, together, and the nutrients they contain, are essential for the proper functioning of the immune system. The most important aspect is to have a balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, which can benefit our organism due to its rich content in nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants.
This healthy diet can be supplemented at times, such as during seasonal changes or winter, with food supplements rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, B group vitamins (B6 and B12), vitamin D and zinc, among others, which contribute to the normal functioning of the immune system.
4. Are there vitamins that have a positive effect on the immune system?
Vitamins contribute to the optimal function of the immune system on three levels: reinforcing physical barriers (skin and mucous membranes), cellular immunity (which depends on the kinds of white blood cells), and humoral immunity (production of antibodies).
For example, vitamin A plays a key role in the development and maintenance of our mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) and skin, which are our first barriers of defence against harmful agents, while the B group of vitamins are vital for all body processes, and help in energy metabolism, which is essential for the immune system to act.
5. Why is Vitamin C useful for the immune system and which formulations are best?
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is the most abundant non-enzymatic antioxidant in human tissue. It protects cells against oxidative stress and, as has been shown in many studies, contributes to normal immune system functioning.
Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables. A varied and balanced diet can also be supplemented by dietary supplements containing vitamin C.
As vitamin C is highly sensitive to environmental factors such as temperature, pH, light and oxygen, there are some vitamin C formulations that improve the stability and bioavailability of vitamin C, such as the liposomal format.
6. In addition to food, what else can we do to help maintain the immune system?
As well as a balanced and healthy diet, we can take nutrients through food supplements containing ingredients that promote normal immune function, which are available in a range of formats.
In addition to food, sleeping at least eight hours a day, taking physical exercise, keeping a more relaxed lifestyle as far as possible, avoiding stressful situations, are also good habits that help our defences to work properly.
7. What natural ingredients help the immune system?
Apart from vitamins, minerals such as zinc, selenium, iron and copper contribute to the normal functioning of the immune system, a healthy property recognised by the EFSA.
8. When should supplements or food supplements be taken?
The first thing is to state that food supplements as defined by AESAN: “are foods whose purpose is to supplement the daily diet. They consist of concentrated sources of nutrients or other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect”.
Current laboratory techniques can measure the levels of some vitamins or minerals in an person and, with medical advice, determine the dietary changes to be made, which can be supplemented with food supplements.
There are two basic premises when taking food supplements: firstly, consult a health professional for advice. Secondly, follow the instructions for use and recommended dosage.
9. What about children? How can you help maintain the immune system in children?
In children who are in the growth and development phase, the main concern is a proper nutrition based on the fact that the food intake should be enough to maintain their overall health, and their immune system specifically, in optimal conditions.
In some cases, it is possible to supplement the diet with food supplements for an extra supply of micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, always under medical advice.
10. Are there any contra-indications to taking food supplements?
So far, food supplements have not shown any contra-indications, but rather warnings for their use. Warnings advise when an ingredient may have an adverse effect, for example, in people who are allergic to bee products, those who may be taking medication such as anticoagulants, pregnant or breastfeeding women, among others.
If the instructions for use are followed properly, it is very unlikely that any adverse effects will arise. It is therefore very important to read the labelling properly and to follow the advice of a doctor.
- Calder, P. C. and S. Kew. The immune system: a target for functional foods? British Journal of Nutrition (2002), 88, S165–S176.
- Maggini, S. et al. Selected vitamins and trace elements support immune function by strengthening epithelial barriers and cellular and humoral immune responses. British Journal of Nutrition (2007), 98, Suppl. 1, S29–S35.
- Pecora, F. et al. The Role of Micronutrients in Support of the Immune Response against Viral Infections. Nutrients. 2020 Oct; 12(10): 3198.
- Wintergerst, E. S. et al. Immune-Enhancing Role of Vitamin C and Zinc and Effect on Clinical Conditions. Ann Nutr Metab 2006;50:85–94.
- Zmora, N. et al. The Role of the Immune System in Metabolic Health and Disease. Cell Metab. 2017 Mar 7;25(3):506-521.
This content was written by specialists from the MARNYS Scientific Information Department with the collaboration of Dr. Luis Gutiérrez Serantes. This article is informative and is not a replacement for the advice of a specialist.
About the expert
El Dr. Luis Gutiérrez Serantes has a degree in Medicine and Surgery from the Complutense University of Madrid, is the author of many books and a health communicator on Radio and Television. He is well known for his participation for nearly twenty years in the programme ‘Saber Vivir’ on TVE.