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vitamin C and D, zinc, selenium, iron


Vitamins and minerals for the immune system

Knowing which micronutrients are good for our body and, consequently, choosing which foods to favor is the first step towards having efficient defenses.

Among the most relevant elements for the physiology of the immune system are vitamins C and D, selenium, iron and zinc. Often in a synergistic way, these contribute to maintaining the physiological activities of the immune cells, whose key role is that of control and defense of our organism.

For this reason, it is essential to assimilate adequate quantities in the diet every day: knowing these “active principles” allows you to favor foods that are rich in them and, in case of deficiencies, to resort to food supplements support of the immune system.

They must never be missing

Vitamins and minerals are defined as “micronutrients” because they are present in minimal quantities in foods and micro-doses are enough to exert their beneficial functions on the body.

Vitamin C

The vitamin C It boasts many properties and performs numerous functions, making it indispensable for the overall well-being of our organism.

The function for which it is best known is that antioxidant: vitamin C in fact counteracts the action of free radicals, harmful molecules that can weaken the body, protecting it from oxidative stress.

Vitamin C also participates in the synthesis of collagen at the skin and cartilage level, facilitates the absorption of iron, counteracts the aging of cells and is energizing in moments of physical and mental tiredness. Vitamin C is also valuable for maintaining the normal functionality of blood vessels, accelerates the healing of wounds, keeps the skin healthy and improves the body's reaction in periods of severe stress.

Immune system: what Vitamin C is used for

Vitamin C acts to support various functions of the immune defenses:

  • Modulates the immune response: vitamin C is recognized as having an immunomodulatory action as it activates and supports an adequate response against pathogens, but, at the same time, avoids excessive damage to the body related to the immune reaction. Numerous studies have highlighted that vitamin C is able to reduce the risk and improve the course of respiratory and systemic infections, acting both in preventive terms and in speed of recovery.
  • Promotes microbial killing: vitamin C stimulates the migration of neutrophils to the site of infection and improves the phagocytosis and toxicity capabilities of immune cells against pathogens.
  • Reduces the risk of colds: ensuring an adequate supply of vitamin C through diet or supplementation, especially in the elderly or in those exposed to risk factors, is necessary for correct immune function and resistance to infections. Some studies on the effects of vitamin C have shown that colds may last fewer days and symptoms may be less severe in people who regularly consume adequate levels of vitamin C. Even in athletes exposed to short periods of intense physical activity – a condition that causes immunodeficiency and greater risk of getting sick – vitamin C is useful in preventing contagion.

Where is it

The main ones sources of vitamin C they are fresh fruit and vegetables. Citrus fruits (such as oranges, grapefruits), strawberries, currants and kiwis are especially rich in them. As for vegetables, vitamin C is present in significant quantities in peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, spinach, arugula, radicchio and potatoes.

How much is needed

According to the indications contained in the Reference Intake Levels of Nutrition and Energy for the Italian Population (LARN) of the Italian Society of Human Nutrition (SINU), therecommended intake of vitamin C it stands at 80 mg for women and 90 mg for men. As regards immunomodulatory activity and prevention of infections, the recommended dose of vitamin C is at least 500 mg per day.

Vitamin D

The vitamin D she is best known for being an ally of the health of bone: in fact, vitamin D plays a fundamental role in bone formation and mineralization. Furthermore, vitamin D is involved in the regulation of calcium homeostasis (in particular, it allows its absorption and fixation in the skeleton) and participates in the balance of other minerals such as phosphorus, sodium and magnesium. The functions of vitamin D, however, are not limited to maintaining healthy bones.

Immune system: what vitamin D is for

Vitamin D contributes to normal functioning, as it is capable of influencing both innate and adaptive immunity.

In particular, the active form of vitamin D:

  • Increase the antimicrobial capabilities of immune cells.
  • It plays a vital role in control infectionsespecially acute respiratory ones, and in reducing the excessive inflammatory response by white blood cells.

Numerous studies have highlighted how low levels of vitamin D are directly associated with a greater likelihood of experiencing colds or other upper respiratory tract infections. Vitamin D supplementation is important for immune health year-round, but especially during the peak of the cold season, when vitamin D levels are at their lowest.

In 2017, a meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal collected and evaluated the evidence from clinical studies carried out to date on the use of the vitamin, demonstrating how its integration is able to reduce the risk of acute respiratory infections. This effect was particularly evident in those who are very deficient.

The results of the publication have raised a lot of debate in the scientific community and doubt remains about the real usefulness of recommending vitamin D supplementation in healthy people in order to strengthen their immune system and prevent respiratory infections. However, the opinion is shared that in subjects with vitamin D deficiency this indication is sustainable. In this case, the aforementioned study demonstrated how much more effective daily vitamin D supplementation is, rather than a weekly or monthly intake. Regarding the dosage, there is no certainty, and it would seem to depend on the degree of deficiency or the person's health conditions. The daily requirement of vitamin D, in fact, varies depending on age.

Where is it

Almost all of vitamin D (around 90% of the requirement) is produced at the skin level, starting from a derivative of cholesterol, by the action of ultraviolet light from the sun. For this reason, we often hear the advice to stay outdoors as much as possible.

Vitamin D is also found in foodssuch as cod liver oil, egg yolk, cheeses, butter, some fatty fish (eel, mackerel, sardine, tuna and salmon), liver, green vegetables and mushrooms.

In the winter period, nutrition becomes the main resource of vitamin D and, when lacking, it is possible to consider the opportunity to supplement it to guarantee an adequate intake, always under medical indication and supervision.

How much is needed

When it comes to bone health, in general, the daily requirement of vitamin D is equal to 400 international units (IU). Doses can vary and reach up to 1000 IU per day in the presence of risk factors or more marked deficiency.

Based on studies, to support the immune system and protect against influenza and other acute respiratory infections, it is reasonable to take a vitamin D supplement of 1000 IU per day.

Mineral salts

Together with vitamins, the group of nutrients that cannot be missing from the diet to support the immune system is that of mineral salts. In fact, these are elements that directly participate in the activation and maintenance of defenses and, if the body is lacking in them, can increase vulnerability to infections and various other diseases.

The body needs them in minimal quantities, but that “little” must be there because mineral salts are fundamental for maintaining the body's well-being: the daily nutritional requirement, as well as for other micronutrients, can be satisfied within the framework of a healthy and balanced diet. If the diet is not sufficient to guarantee the right amount every day, it is possible to resort to food supplements, following medical advice.


Il selenium it is an essential mineral that belongs to the group of microelements; carries out an important protective action on cell membranes. In particular, this mineral helps to counteract the oxidative stress which causes aging: selenium is one of the main elements of protection from free radical damage, especially if combined with vitamin E.

Selenium supports normal defense function, stimulating the production of antibodies, the activity of T lymphocytes and natural killers and the functions of innate immune cells.

Selenium is also involved in the metabolism of thyroid hormones and protects the cardiovascular system.

The selenium content in foods is variable because it depends on its presence in the soil from which the foods come. Good food sources of this mineral are: Brazil nuts, offal, stockfish, shellfish, tuna, sardines and rice.


Lo zinc it is an essential mineral for the well-being of the organism, as it is part of the molecular structure of many enzymes. Zinc has antioxidant properties and plays a key role in macronutrient metabolism, neurological functioning and reproduction.

Zinc is important as immunostimulant since it has a central role in the maturation and differentiation of immune cells, promoting the development of lymphocytes and the production of antibodies.

Especially during seasonal changes or when the body is subjected to excessive stress, zinc helps relieve the sense of tiredness, increasing energy. Furthermore, this element helps to keep the mucous membranes and skin intact, i.e. the first barriers to the penetration of infectious agents into our body.

Zinc is present in foods such as meat, fish, eggs, milk and derivatives, wheat bran, legumes and dried fruit.


Il ferro participates in the activity of numerous enzymes: contributes to the normal formation of red blood cells and hemoglobin, thus helping to transport oxygen in the body. This mineral also serves for the production of collagen (a substance that makes up many tissues, including skin) and neurotransmitters. Iron also contributes to strengthening the immune defenses and, being involved in energy metabolism, increases resistance to tiredness.

In foods, iron is found in two forms: hemic iron (more available) is contained in foods of animal origin (beef meat, offal, egg yolk), while non-hemic iron (absorbed in smaller quantities) is characteristic of vegetables, such as legumes, spinach, dried fruit and apricots.

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