Most people reach for vitamin C when they feel the early signs of a cold. Even vitamin D has received more attention in recent years for its ability to support immune health. But minerals, another type of micronutrient, are also important in the immune response. Let’s explore further how to support immune health with minerals.
Zinc is involved in hundreds of reactions in the body, aiding enzymes and allowing for more efficient biochemical reactions. Within the immune system, zinc helps maintain the structure of skin and parts of the gut lining, both of which work as barriers to help prevent potential bacteria and viruses from entering circulation.1 Zinc also helps limit inflammatory molecules and works as an antioxidant to protect cells from damage.1 Finally, zinc is critical to the growth and differentiation of multiple types of immune cells.1
Similar to zinc, magnesium is involved in many processes throughout the body. As a required element of the immune system, magnesium helps protect DNA from damage and assists in antibody synthesis, allowing the body to respond quickly if the same threat is encountered again.2 Magnesium also supports the ability of certain immune cells to recognize potential invaders and regulates the action of other immune cells to destroy foreign compounds and remove damaged cells.2
Iron is probably most well-known for its role in carrying oxygen through the body as a key component of hemoglobin. However, iron is also important for the immune system. Iron helps generate signals and chemicals that can destroy an invader and is involved in the growth of immune cells.1 Iron is also required for several enzymes that are critical for proper immune cell function.1
Copper regulates the function of multiple types of immune cells, possesses antimicrobial properties, helping prevent the growth of bacteria, and supports immune processes that neutralize a potential threat.2 Finally, copper plays a role in the production of antibodies, allowing the immune system to develop a memory and respond more efficiently in the future.1
Selenium is required by the body in very small amounts but is essential for immune health. It is incorporated into proteins, called selenoproteins, which carry out important functions in the body, including within the immune system.1,2 Selenium can also influence immune cell function.2
Whole-food Immune Support
These minerals, as well as other important nutrients, support a variety of immune processes, boosting overall immune health. It is important to consume adequate amounts every day so that the body can have readily available stores and respond quickly when an infection occurs. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) and dietary sources for these minerals are shown below:
(mg= milligram, ug= microgram)
Ideally, consumption of essential minerals would be part of a balanced, healthy diet, but supplements can help fill nutrient gaps when they occur. Consuming nutrients from whole foods can further benefit the immune system through the synergistic effects of nutrients in the whole food matrix, including with plant compounds that also support immune health.