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Boosting Your Immune System

Do you always feel as if you have just recovered from one cold when another comes along? Luckily, according to Jenna Bell-Wilson, MS, RD, LD, media representative for the New Mexico Dietetic Association and doctoral student in exercise physiology at the University of New Mexico, eating foods rich in four special nutrients can help you start boosting your immune system:

  1. Hooray for Vitamin A! Vitamin A
    is the first nutrient that can make you healthier by boosting your immune system! Studies have shown that vitamin A deficiency can lead to damage in the mucosal linings of the respiratory, gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts. (These linings are essential to the body’s defense against foreign particles. When they are damaged, one is more likely to be infected.) Vitamin A deficiency has also been linked to an increased number of skin infections.
  2. Keep Your Eye on Vitamin E. Also
    a mainstay of the immune system, vitamin E helps protect the body against cardiovascular disease and cancer. In a study reported in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers evaluated the impact of three different amounts of vitamin E on immune function in animals, and the immune systems of those animals that received the greatest amount of vitamin E (65 times the minimum daily amount currently recommended for humans) were enhanced. Because of this finding, researchers believe that a diet rich in vitamin E may also help humans.
  3. The Power of Zinc. Zinc aids in boosting your immune system in many ways. For example, it appears to help produce T cells, the small white blood cells essential to the adaptive immune system. (The adaptive immune system remembers how to respond to each new threat so, if a person had a disease such as chicken pox as
    a child, that person doesn’t get it again.) It may also help produce phagocytes, the large white blood cells that patrol the body on ready alert. Zinc may even help produce natural killer cells, which help destroy foreign substances in the body
    as well. Zinc deficiency sometimes contributes to death due to gastrointestinal or respiratory problems. Fortunately, zinc supplementation can reduce such risks in people with low T cell counts, such as the elderly; those undergoing chemotherapy; and people suffering from HIV/AIDS, alcoholism, burns and more. However, because zinc can decrease the body’s absorption of copper, iron and calcium, zinc supplementation is not recommended for healthy adults.
  4. The Impact of Iron. Iron deficiency, also called iron deficiency anemia, can weaken the immune system. You can correct this condition by eating plenty of iron-rich foods or, if necessary, taking iron supplements. However, zinc may limit the absorption of iron. If you take both zinc and iron supplements, also increase your daily consumption of iron-rich foods so the one nutrient doesn’t nullify the benefits of the other.


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