Top 5 Nutrients The Immune System Needs
Menopause’s effect on the body runs deeper than we think. We know that menopause changes levels of sex hormones as women progress through the transition, but menopause can also change regulatory processes in the body that affect the brain, bones, and the immune system.
Supporting immune health during the menopausal transition is crucial to helping maintain the body’s overall health. The immune system is responsible for helping the body fight off infections, prevent the development of serious illnesses, as well as repairing and healing damaged cells. So how can we better maintain immune health during menopause?
Though Vitamin C is known for keeping us strong against colds and other illnesses, it can support far more than just your immune health. Vitamin C can help the body absorb iron more effectively and help prevent the development of iron deficiencies, which can lead to anemia.
However, when it comes to immune health specifically, Vitamin C packs quite a punch. Vitamin C helps encourage the production of certain white blood cells, which make up the immune system. Vitamin C also helps these white blood cells function more effectively, protecting them from things like oxidative stress and free radicals that would otherwise try to damage them and leave the body open to infection. It’s also been observed that Vitamin C may help shorten the time it takes for cells to heal and repair themselves.
You can get Vitamin C from some common food sources like:
- Citrus fruits
- Brussel Sprouts
Supplementing Vitamin C sources is also a great way to help improve immune health. Vitamin C supplements are easily affordable and can help provide your body with enough antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress.
Vitamin D is usually considered an essential nutrient for bone strength and development, but there is growing evidence that Vitamin D helps when it comes to maintaining the immune system, too. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to the development of some autoimmune conditions as well as a higher risk of infection rates among people with respiratory illnesses (i.e. tuberculosis and pneumonia).
Vitamin D’s properties have been observed to help maintain the regulatory processes of certain illness-fighting immune cells. Vitamin D has been shown to support the modulation of specific immune cells to help them more effectively target bacteria and viruses that enter the body. The antimicrobial response of some immune cells has been shown to somewhat improve with adequate levels of Vitamin D.
Some common quality sources of Vitamin D include foods like:
- Fish (salmon, mackerel, etc.)
- Dairy products (milk, yogurt)
- Fortified products (cereals, oats)
Supplementing Vitamin D can also help support immune health. Vitamin D3 supplements are the most common supplements, as this type of Vitamin D has been observed to have the most immune health benefits.
Iron is a naturally occurring mineral that the body needs to produce new cells, including immune cells. This is especially important where lymphocytes are concerned. Lymphocytes are types of white blood cells that are divided into two sub-immune cells: T-cells and B-cells. T-cells are immune-fighting cells that come directly into contact with foreign bacteria and viruses, while B-cells are cells that produce antibodies that latch onto invading bacteria and viruses and destroys them so that they cannot proliferate and spread.
Because of iron’s immunomodulating properties, it is a vital nutrient to preserving immune health. Gaining enough iron through a nutritious diet is essential to maintaining the production of immune cells.
Some iron-rich food sources include:
- Red Meat (beef, pork)
- Fish (salmon, mackerel, herring)
You can also gain iron through iron supplements to help maintain steady iron levels. Speak to a doctor about what supplements might be best to take with your current diet, as high levels of iron can lead to hemochromatosis.
Selenium is an essential mineral with antioxidant properties that helps us to maintain a healthy immune system, by reducing oxidative stress and free radicals that would otherwise damage cells. This can help the body better maintain how effectively cells are healed and repaired, especially skin cells.
Since selenium has antioxidant properties, it is especially helpful in reducing inflammation. This, in turn, can help the body better protect itself against bacterial and viral infections.
Some excellent food sources of selenium include:
- Fish (salmon, tuna, sardines)
- Nuts (brazil nuts)
- Brown rice
- Sunflower seeds
Supplementing selenium through medications and natural supplements can help maintain steadier levels of selenium. However, you should speak to a doctor about the appropriate intake levels for your individual health as excess selenium can cause tremors, difficulty breathing, kidney failure, and heart attacks.
Zinc is perhaps lesser-known among the panel of immune-regulating nutrients, but it is just as essential to maintaining immune health. Like selenium, zinc possesses many immunomodulating properties that help with the proliferation and health of immune cells. Zinc helps the development of specific white blood cells like neutrophils and T-cells. With zinc, white blood cells are better able to replicate and increase in number.
Zinc also functions as a strong antioxidant, helping to reduce oxidative stress and the presence of free radicals in cell membranes, specifically in skin cells. This helps reduce the likelihood of infections spreading in the skin that can lead to a rapid spread rate of foreign bacteria and viruses inside the body.
Common zinc-rich food sources include:
- Shellfish (clams, oysters)
- Whole Grains (brown rice, lentils)
You can supplement zinc through vitamin and mineral supplements. Multi-vitamin supplements can offer you your recommended daily value of Zinc depending on the type of zinc used (i.e. zinc gluconate vs. zinc picolinate), as well as the other ingredients in the panel that support zinc’s absorption.
Immune Health is Essential
Your immune system changes as you go through menopause, so being proactive about your nutritional needs is important. Reevaluate your diet and see where you can make adjustments to better serve your body’s nutritional needs and keep your immune system healthy.