The current pandemic reminds us that we need a healthy immune system to protect ourselves from invading antigens. To ensure that we maintain a strong immune response, we should supplement with vitamin C, iron, and zinc. Many vegans are deficient in iron. Combining iron with vitamin C increases iron’s assimilation significantly.
- Vitamin C is essential for a strong immune response and daily intake of vitamin C is needed since the body doesn’t store vitamin C.
- Many vegans are deficient in zinc and iron. Combining zinc and iron with vitamin C increases both's assimilation significantly.
- Zinc is essential to numerous immune response functions.
With the Coronavirus raging, sparking indiscriminate havoc in every corner of the world, the human immune system is front and center. The immune system is our first line of defense against anything and everything that enters our body which could potentially cause us harm.
Evaluating, understanding, and dealing with this virus can only be done within the context of the immune system.
The immune system is just that; a system. It involves a number of components, cells and organs, that all need to work in concert with each other in order for the system to function optimally. With respect to bacterial or viral invaders, the immune system has an army of cell defenders. This army reads like an alphabetic who’s who; there are T’s and B’s, T-helpers, T-cell Receptors (TCR’s), naïve T cells, activated T cells, cytotoxic T cells (CD8’s). These cells are produced in several places in our bodies, including the thymus gland, spleen, bone marrow, and lymph nodes.
The immune system army is comprised of two types of soldiers, innate and acquired. Innate cells are the body’s first line of defense. If the initial defense with innate cells is not successful in dealing with the invader, then the body calls on its acquired, or ‘adaptive’ cell responders. These cells must undergo a process in order to be manufactured from scratch. However, they are heartier than our innate immune cells and are programmed to fight the specific antigen. After the first exposure to the invader is successfully fended off by these adaptive cells, they remain intact, ready to respond quickly the next time the same invader is identified.
The process of identifying the invader, manufacturing cells to fight the invader, and the fight itself takes time. In the case of Covid-19, it appears that, under ideal circumstances, the entire process takes about two weeks. This refers to cases where someone comes into contact with the virus, the virus takes hold, and the person comes down with symptoms of the viral infection. They get sick.
It has become clear that a sizable majority of people who are infected with this virus show no symptoms. It is probable that in these cases, the patients’ innate immune response is sufficient. However, these peoples’ bodies still undergo the immune response process with the development of antibodies and programmed T cell defenders. Covid-19 is indeed an enigmatic virus, with some fighting it off quite easily, while others succumb to it.
The immune system is an army, and like all armies, it must be fed. It requires the participation of various components of our bodies, and therefore, the nutrients we put into our bodies should support over-all health, and especially the organs, tissues, and functions involved in the immune response/system.So, what are a few important things this army needs? Vitamin C is a good place to start.
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin. The body doesn’t make its own vitamin C, and it also doesn’t store it. So, we either need to consume foods on a daily basis that contain vitamin C, or we need to obtain it through supplementation, or both. There is a general consensus amongst nutritionists that people need at least 90 mg per day.
The effects of vitamin C on the body, and its benefits have been thoroughly verified through research. These benefits include:
- Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can strengthen your natural defenses and may reduce the risks for developing chronic illnesses. Supplementing with vitamin C can increase blood antioxidant levels by as much as 30% .
- A review study that analyzed twenty-nine vitamin C studies from 1966 to 2011 concluded that Vitamin C helps regulate high blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic, by relaxing blood vessels that carry blood from the heart .
- Another review study that analyzed nine previous studies, involving nearly 300,000 participants, concluded that vitamin C supplementation decreased the risk of developing heart disease by 25%. It also significantly reduced cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Vitamin C lowers the level of uric acid in the blood and protects against developing gout .
- Vitamin C helps improve the absorption of iron from dietary sources, especially plant-based sources of iron .
- Vitamin C helps boost our immune responses by enhancing the production of white blood cells, known as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which are the source of our T cells, while protecting them from damage caused by free radicals .
- Vitamin C reduces recovery time from the common cold by 8% in adults and 14% in children.
- Vitamin C protects the brain and reduces our chances of developing memory impairment and dementia as we age .
Iron is essential to human health. It is an electrolyte, necessary for cellular communication. It is required for the production of red blood cells and new DNA production. It also supports numerous functions, including immune response , the gastrointestinal system, the regulation of body temperature, and cognitive function.
There are many reasons that people may need iron supplementation:
- If you eat a plant-based diet
- If you exercise, especially females
- If you’re pregnant
- If you’re menstruating
- If you’ve donated blood or if you’ve lost blood
- If you have already developed anemia from being iron deficient
- Your baby may need extra iron after their sixth month
- If you’re on dialysis
- If you take certain medications that block the assimilation of iron, including quinolones, tetracycline, ranitidine, ACE inhibitors, colestipol, or cholestyramine
- If you have ADHD
Vegans are especially at risk for developing an iron deficiency because plant-based sources for iron, also known as ‘non-heme’ iron, are more difficult to assimilate than iron originating from animal-based sources. Vitamin C has been shown to increase iron absorption significantly and should always be included with any iron supplement.
A recent review study, which analyzed the results of twenty-six previous studies, revealed that people who consume a plant-based diet are significantly more likely than omnivores to be deficient in zinc . Most nutritional authorities recommend between 8-10 mg of zinc per day.
Zinc is a vital mineral for metabolic processes, cellular repair, reproductive function, and immune response. One study  focused specifically on zinc deficiency and the mineral’s role in supporting immune function. The study’s author concluded:“Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system . Zinc is crucial for normal development and function of cells mediating innate immunity, neutrophils, and NK cells. Macrophages also are affected by zinc deficiency. Phagocytosis, intracellular killing, and cytokine production all are affected by zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency adversely affects the growth and function of T and B cells.”
Immune System Support
Anyone who is looking to give the immune system a nutritional boost with supportive nutrients should definitely include vitamin C, iron, and zinc. People who eat plant-based diets should especially be aware of their need for iron combined with vitamin C to ensure that their iron is properly assimilated.