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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Immune system checklist: zinc and vitamin D

I was talking this week with Live Well’s holistic GP, Dr Orla Teahan, about key immune system nutrients. Dr Teahan commented that many people she’s testing have low or borderline low zinc and vitamin D levels and how that was a concern, given their status as a key immune system nutrients.

Let’s talk about zinc baby!

Zinc is found in abundance in red meat, eggs, dairy and seafood, especially oysters, as well as flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, alfalfa, peas and, thankfully, dark chocolate (although, if dark chocolate is your main dietary source you might be in trouble!).  

The prevalence of zinc deficiency may be because we’re eating less red meat and seafood than previously. The plant-based sources of zinc also contain phytate and other inhibitors of zinc absorption, meaning that despite adequate dietary intake, you may not be absorbing sufficient amounts. Fortunately, you can ensure plant-based zinc is more readily absorbed by the body by soaking and sprouting legumes and nuts. Plant-based foods that have been fermented (e.g. choosing sourdough bread, which has undergone a fermentation process) also help your body absorb zinc.

What about Vitamin D?

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Vitamin D, as we all know, is made by the body when our skin is exposed to sunlight. As little as 10 minutes of sun a day on bare skin (arms, legs, face and back) without sunscreen is considered enough. However, as days get shorter and work hours take up more of our sunlight hours, it’s understandable why many of us are missing out.

Oily fish has some of the highest quantities of vitamin D in food sources. Plant-based sources are limited, which is why manufacturers add vitamin D to many commercially available foods that are labelled ‘fortified’, including some milks, breads and juices. 

Vitamin D is crucial to our immune system’s ability to mount an effective defence once it comes into contact with a pathogen. Vitamin D deficiency is also prevalent in autoimmune disease, so if you have an autoimmune condition, or family history of autoimmune disease, it would be wise to find out what your vitamin D levels are.

The bottom line is that whilst we have access to exceptional fresh produce, many of us are not getting sufficient key nutrients from our diet. However, a simple blood test can tell you if your zinc and vitamin D levels are adequate. Armed with that knowledge, you can either remedy the situation or rest easy knowing your immune system has the raw materials it requires. 

With Wesley Smith, Director, Live Well Spa & Wellness Centre Manukameditatewithwes.com

Editor’s note: Our rotating wellbeing and fitness columns provide advice that is general in nature. Please always refer to your preferred health professional for advice suited to your personal healthcare requirements.

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Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts