Aging, as we all know, is unavoidable. As the years progress, and particularly after the age of 50, our bodies begin to change in various ways.
One significant change is a reduction in immune system efficacy. As you age, your immune system–which is responsible for defending the body against illness and disease–may not respond as swiftly or robustly as it did in your younger years.
However, by understanding proper nutrition, it is possible to boost your immune system and give your body the best chance of warding off illness at any age. Here are six essential vitamins and minerals you should know about.
Often held up as the ultimate immune booster, vitamin C assists in the production of white blood cells, which are responsible for producing antibodies and play a critical role in fighting off infections. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, which means that it helps to protect your cells from harmful free radicals.
Sources: Citrus fruits (such as oranges, grapefruits, and lemons), strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, broccoli, and kale are all rich in vitamin C.
Vitamin D plays a key role in bone and muscle health and nerve functioning as well as in helping the immune system to fight off infection.
Sunlight is the main source of vitamin D. However, as you age, the body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight diminishes. This means that dietary intake (and supplementation if appropriate) become more crucial.
Sources: Fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines), fortified foods (such as dairy products and orange juice), egg yolks, and mushrooms are all great sources of vitamin D.
A powerful antioxidant, vitamin E aids in protecting cells from the damage caused by free radicals. It also plays a role in strengthening immune function and preventing inflammation.
Sources: Nuts (especially almonds, hazelnuts, and peanuts), sunflower seeds, spinach, broccoli, and avocado are some of the best dietary sources of vitamin E.
Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin which fights inflammation, plays a role in the development of the immune system, and boosts adaptive immune responses such as lymphocytes, memory cells and antibodies. It also regulates some of the genes involved in immune function.
Sources: Foods with beta-carotene (which the body can convert into vitamin A) include carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, and yellow fruits such as mango and papaya. Other good sources include dairy products, oily fish, liver, and eggs.
Iron is instrumental in the body’s creation of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that is responsible for transporting oxygen around the body. An iron deficiency body can have a serious negative impact on your immune system. This can lead to symptoms such as tiredness, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath.
Sources: Haem iron comes from animal foods such as beef, poultry, seafood, and organ meats. Non-haem iron comes from plant foods such as nuts and seeds, legumes, leafy green vegetables, and fortified foods. Combining iron sources with vitamin C-rich foods can enhance absorption, particularly of non-haem iron.
Zinc supports the immune system in a number of important ways including by activating the enzymes that break down viruses and bacteria, reducing their ability to spread. It also reduces inflammation and some research suggests it can cut down the length of a common cold. Even a mild zinc deficiency can impede immune function.
Sources: Nuts, whole grains, dairy products, eggs, shellfish, and red meat are all great sources of zinc. Zinc absorption is more efficient from animal-based sources, so vegetarians and vegans may need to supplement their intake.
Supplementing Your Diet for Optimal Wellbeing
As you age, it becomes increasingly important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet. Ensuring that you are getting enough of the right nutrients will bolster your immune system as well as offering a myriad of other health benefits that can enhance your overall wellbeing.
If you are struggling to get enough of any particular nutrient, high quality supplements can help. While not a replacement for a healthy balanced diet, supplementation can fill in any gaps and work alongside the foods you eat to give you the best chance of staying healthier for longer.
If you think you may have a nutrient deficiency, see your doctor as these can be serious if left untreated. In addition, consult with your healthcare provider before starting any supplement regimen, particularly if you are taking any medications or have any known health issues.