6 micronutrients linked to your immunity

6 micronutrients linked to your immunity

Vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc… these immune support nutrients have been talked about a lot for optimizing our immune response to covid-19. Are they necessary or can food be enough to get through the winter? And which one should be preferred?

With a turnover of around 2 billion euros in 2019, i.e. an annual growth of almost 3%, the nutritional supplement market has been constantly developing over the past ten years. And it’s not the numbers for 2020 that will change the curve. Already at the first stage, the segment of supplements intended to strengthen the immune system increased even more, from 38% to 41%, according to Synadiet (the national union of nutritional supplements). From February 24 to April 30, 2020 alone, during the first wave of Covid-19, their sales jumped 221%!

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Dietary supplements are not drugs

A success that shouldn’t make us forget that nutritional supplements are considered food and not drugs. Unlike the latter, which are subject to a very strict marketing procedure, dietary supplements therefore, there is no need to prove their effectiveness before they go on sale..

It is the DGCCRF (Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention) that oversees their marketing, checks for ingredients on the list of permitted substances and the legitimacy of claims, with only a limited number confirmed by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority). And on immunity, only one voice is heard: “Contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system” allowed for vitamins C and D, copper and zinc. All other promises like “Increases immune defense” or “Prevents viral and respiratory infections.” purely and simply characterized by fraud.

Are nutritional supplements really helpful?

Hidden behind this question is another: can there be enough food to meet our nutritional needs? Yes, if we refer to ANSES (National Food Safety Agency) which reminds that “in general, in the absence of pathology, nutritional needs can be met through a varied and balanced diet associated with appropriate physical activity. In this case, there is no need for nutritional supplements.

In practice, the reality is quite different. “You rarely meet people who have this “varied and balanced diet”, and yet you need to define it well, emphasizes Anthony Bertha, nutritionist and micronutritionist. In addition, nutritional needs are estimated on the basis of average values. However, each person has different needs depending on the lifestyle, period of life, state of health. The assimilation capacity of the intestine should also be taken into account, which deteriorates, for example, with age and certain pathologies. After all, many factors mean that even with a balanced diet, certain needs may not be met.

Avoid all-in-one cocktails.

In this context, while a balanced diet should obviously remain a priority, nutritional supplements have a role to play. “like what they are, namely supplements aimed at optimizing the diet, and not replacing it”, like a nutritionist.

The ideal would be to define a deficiency, whenever possible, for specialty supplements, rather than taking an all-in-one shake by adding a dozen substances. “In this type of product, the dosages are often insufficient and the combinations have an unattractive synergistic effect.”

Rules to follow

  • In the presence of pathologies, drug treatment, pregnancy, systematically seek advice from a professional (doctor, pharmacist, nutritionist-nutritionist, micronutritionist).
  • Buy nutritional supplements at “official” points of sale: pharmacies, parapharmacies, chain stores, French websites.
  • To avoid overdoses and interactions, do not take multiple dietary supplements at the same time.
  • Prefer simple formulas with dosages that provide a maximum of 100% depending on the nutrients.
  • Avoid prolonged or repeated use without professional advice. Observe the precautions for use, dosage and contraindications.

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Vitamin D to protect against respiratory infections
Should I supplement? According to a list published in 2016 by FFAS (French Foundation for Food and Health), nearly 80% of French people have vitamin D levels below the recommended level (between 20 and 50 ng/ml of blood), 45% would be in a state of sufficiency (20 ng/ml) and 25% of elderly people who are deficient (10 ng/mL). Since there are not enough food sources to raise levels too low, supplements seem to be relevant in the presence of these risk factors or comorbidities for Covid-19. The specialist recommends to optimize the immune response from 1000 to 4000 IU (international units) / day and ideally 75 IU per kg of body weight per day within 10,000 IU / day. It is desirable to take in the evening.

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Zinc to limit virus replication
Should I supplement? Like vitamin D, zinc is an immune system mineral. “It is very important that the immune system functions optimally and has the ability to inhibit virus replication,” explains the nutritionist. People who consume little animal protein, vegetarians and even more so vegans are at risk of deficiency, the same for people over 60, those who drink a lot of alcohol or take certain medications. The nutritionist then recommends zinc bisglycinate at 10 to 15 mg per day. “Do not exceed this dose without consulting a doctor, excess zinc is harmful.”

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Copper against free radicals
Should I supplement? This trace element, present in the body in small quantities, is involved in the proper functioning of the immune system. Since the need for copper is relatively low and it is present in many foods, copper deficiency is rare. Supplements don’t seem warranted, especially since “at high doses, copper can be pro-oxidant,” the nutritionist warns.

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Probiotics for microbiota balance
Should I supplement? The role of the gut microbiota in immunity accounts for 60 to 70% of immune cells. Hence the idea of ​​taking probiotics, the “good” bacteria, to balance this microbiota. “But the strains do not settle permanently, punctual contributions do not balance the microbiota in the long term,” the expert moderates. It is best to take them regularly and vary the strains, keeping in mind that probiotics remain “one support element among others, but not a miracle product.”

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Quercetin lends a hand to zinc
Should I supplement? Even if it represents the antioxidant of choice in the context of the coronavirus, in particular because it potentiates the action of zinc, quercetin is not a miracle molecule, especially since the dosages used in the studies are very high, ”the nutritionist said. There is nothing better than fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables from organic farming for dressing. However, “if your intake of fruits and vegetables is low, supplementation may be justified. Take 1 g per day, at the rate of 500 mg during lunch and dinner.