- Vitamins that help keep your immune system strong include vitamins C, D, E, and B6
- Vitamin C can kill harmful microbes like bacteria and viruses and may also ramp up your body’s production of immune cells.
- Your body also needs antioxidants, like vitamin E, to help fight off infections.
- This article was reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
Your immune system is a complicated network made up of immune cells that fight off disease-causing bacteria and viruses. In order for your immune system to work at its best, you need to be getting the right nutrients in your diet.
Essential vitamins like vitamin C and zinc can help you produce enough immune cells like antibodies and white blood cells to keep your immune system running well. Some vitamins can also kill off harmful microbes and help you get healthy again more quickly.
Here are four vitamins you need to support your immune system and stay healthy.
Your body needs vitamin B6 to make vital immune system cells that help your body fight against harmful microbes. In particular, B6 aids your body to produce T-cells, a type of immune cell that helps kill infected cells in your body and activate your immune system response.
Women should aim to get around 1.2 mg of vitamin B6 per day, while men should get 1.4 mg. You should not take more than 10 mg of vitamin B6 in a day unless it’s part of a treatment plan prescribed by your doctor.
Experts say that B6 deficiency is rare and most people should be able to get enough vitamin B6 naturally from their diet. Some good sources of vitamin B6 are:
“Vitamin C is essential for healthy immune function,” says Chris D’Adamo, PhD, an epidemiologist and Director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
This is because vitamin C can help kill harmful microbes, including bacteria and viruses like the common cold and pneumonia. Vitamin C also increases your body’s production of vital immune cells, including white blood cells and phagocytes, which are cells that kill bacteria by absorbing them.
Studies show that taking high doses – 6 to 8 g per day – of vitamin C can help shorten the number of days a cold lasts. Taking vitamin C after a cold has started can also make your symptoms less severe.
Vitamin C also helps maintain the barrier between your intestines and the rest of your body, making sure bacteria from your gut can’t escape and make you sick.
Adults should aim to get between 65 and 90 mg of vitamin C per day, and you shouldn’t take more than 2,000 mg per day. You need to eat foods with vitamin C every day, as your body cannot store vitamin C or produce it on its own. Some vitamin C-rich foods include:
According to the 2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 40% of adults in the US are vitamin D deficient. This is a serious concern because studies show that people with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to get respiratory infections like pneumonia or bronchitis.
This is partly because vitamin D increases your number of macrophages, which are immune cells that help kill off invading disease cells, D’Adamo says. Vitamin D can also help balance out your immune system by reducing the production of chemicals called inflammatory cytokines, which can make your symptoms worse when too many are produced, D’Adamo says.
You should be getting about 400–800 IU of vitamin D per day. Some good sources of vitamin D are:
Your body produces much of your vitamin D when your skin is exposed to UV rays, so if you live in an area with little sunlight, you may want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement. If you decide to take a vitamin D supplement, you should aim for between 600 and 800 IU per day and never go above 4,000 IU unless directed by your doctor. Read more about vitamin D toxicity.
Vitamin E has antioxidant properties, which can help your body fight off infections. Antioxidants are substances that help defend your cells against toxic free radical molecules, which can raise your risk of heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses.
The amount of vitamin E recommended for adults is 15 mg per day. Some good sources of vitamin E are:
Most of us should get enough vitamin E from a balanced diet, and experts say that your body may get more antioxidant benefits from vitamin E-rich foods rather than supplements.
If you take a vitamin E supplement, make sure not to take more than the recommended daily amount, as it can worsen conditions like heart disease.
The Bottom Line
Eating healthy and getting the proper vitamins in your diet can help support your immune system, but this is only one part of the picture. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and minimizing stress are also key to immune health, D’Adamo says. Taking vitamin supplements may be helpful to ward off illness and help you heal more quickly, but always consult with your doctor first to make sure they are right for your body.