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The Role of Nutrition in the Immune System | Part II of II

Vitamins and minerals, known as micronutrients, are nutrients needed by our body for optimal function and often required in only small amounts. These micronutrients are not produced in the body and thus must be obtained from our food (CDC, 2020). Micronutrient deficiencies can have devastating outcomes. At least half of children globally under 5 experience vitamin and mineral deficiencies (UNICEF, 2020) and globally 2 million people suffer ‘hidden hunger’. Micronutrient deficiency is often referred to as ‘hidden hunger’ because they develop slowly over time and their impact is often invisible until permanent damage has been done (UNICEF, 2020).

The Role of Nutrition in the Immune System | Part I of II

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading rapidly across the globe, it is important to take note of the approaches that can help prevent and fight infections, particularly viral infections. Evidence already suggests that viral infections are one of the world’s greatest public health challenges (WHO, 2020). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates seasonal influenza results in 3-5 million cases annually. Today we understand hygiene and social distancing play a key role in protecting yourself and others from contracting a virus while also slowing the spread of infections. Here are a few simple ways to reduce your risk to infections:

Introducing Selenium

Selenium is an important component of the body’s antioxidant system, protecting the body against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a natural by-product of the body’s metabolism. There is now considerable evidence that selenium plays a key role in the functioning of the immune system, in thyroid hormone metabolism and oxidative reduction reactions of vitamin C. Selenium, along with vitamin E, work to reduce the free radicals that are generated through cellular processes.

Introducing Iodine

The body does not make iodine, so it is an essential part of your diet. In addition, this mineral  is needed for the production of thyroid hormones. As an integral part of thyroid hormones it regulates body temperature, metabolic rate, reproduction, growth, blood cell production, nerve and muscle function and more. By controlling the rate at which the cells use oxygen, these hormones influence the amount of energy released when the body is at total rest. Approximately 70 to 80% of the body’s iodine is found in the thyroid.

Introducing Iron

Feeling tired? No energy? Maybe you are not getting enough iron in your diet! Iron is essential for the formation of haemoglobin in red blood cells; haemoglobin binds oxygen and transports it around the body. Iron also serves as a cofactor to enzymes in oxidation/reduction reactions (i.e., accepts or donates electrons). These reactions are vital to cells’ energy metabolism. Iron requirements fluctuate throughout the life course. Iron needs increase during menstruation, pregnancy, and periods of rapid growth such as early childhood and adolescence.

Introducing Zinc

That cut on your finger not healing? Maybe you are not getting enough zinc? Zinc plays a vital role in wound healing as it is required for the functioning of the immune system and in the structure and function of the skin. Almost all cells in our body contain zinc and it is a vital nutrient for growth and development. The highest concentrations are found in muscle and bone. The body tightly regulates zinc levels. For example, stress and infections cause plasma zinc levels to fall. 

Introducing Copper

After iron and zinc, copper is the most abundant dietary trace mineral. It is a component of many enzymes and is needed to produce red and white blood cells. Copper-dependent enzymes transport iron and load it into hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen through the blood.

Introducing Fluoride

When we hear the word fluoride most of us think about its role in keeping our teeth healthy. It’s true that the main function of fluoride in the body is in the mineralisation of bones and teeth therefore, it is critical for healthy teeth and bones. This is why fluoride is now routinely added to most toothpastes. Fluoride is also present in soils, water supplies, plants and animals. Only a trace of fluoride is found in the body, but even at these tiny amounts, the crystalline deposits of fluoride result in larger and stronger bones and makes teeth more resistant to decay.

Introducing Chromium

Chromium is an essential mineral required in small amounts by the body and plays an important role in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Of significance is the finding that individuals with adequate dietary chromium have improved control over blood glucose and a better blood lipid profile. Chromium helps maintain blood glucose levels by enhancing the activity of the hormone insulin. Like iron, chromium assumes different charges. Cr3+ is the most stable form and is commonly found in foods.

Introducing Potassium

It is not an exaggeration to say that potassium literally keeps us alive! It is the body’s principal positively charged ion (cation) inside our cells and thus is essential for maintenance of normal fluid and electrolyte balance, enzyme reactions, cell integrity, and muscle contraction. Potassium and sodium are pumped across the cell membrane, a process that drives nerve impulse transmission.

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