There seems to be no limit to the promises on the Internet for foods and dietary supplements that allegedly “boost” or “support” your immune function. There’s more than a grain of scientific truth in it, and the prospect of enhancing immune function with nutrition is a busy area of research—some of it by scientists at Tufts’ Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) and Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
We know that nutrient deficiencies weaken the immune system and leave people vulnerable to illness. But if your nutrient intakes are adequate, can certain foods and nutritional supplements still improve immune function?
There is no definitive answer yet to this question—although there is reason for optimism. “I would not say it’s entirely an open question,” says Simin Nikbin Meydani, PhD, senior scientist and director of the Tufts’ HNRCA Nutritional Immunology Laboratory. “We do have promising evidence from animal studies and some human clinical trials that specific nutrients might be able to help strengthen an aging immune system. But we need additional research.”
“Our data suggest vitamin D may be involved in maintaining the health of the immune system as well as the skeletal system,” said one of the study’s authors, Mary Ward, PhD, of the University of Ulster in Coleraine, U.K. “This study is the first to find a connection between vitamin D levels and inflammation in a large sample of older individuals.”
Vitamin-deficient seniors more likely to have biomarkers for heart disease, inflammation
Older individuals who are vitamin D deficient also tend to have compromised immune function, according to new research accepted for publication in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).
Vitamin D plays an important role in helping the body absorb calcium needed for healthy bones. The skin naturally produces vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. People also obtain smaller amounts of the vitamin through foods, such as milk fortified with vitamin D. More than 1 billion people worldwide are estimated to have deficient levels of vitamin D due to limited sunshine exposure.
“Our data suggest vitamin D may be involved in maintaining the health of the immune system as well as the skeletal system,” said one of the study’s authors, Mary Ward, PhD, of the University of Ulster in Coleraine, U.K. “This study is…