Guest Column: Choosing the right supplements to build your immune system

By Dr. Jonathan Taylor

Northern Illinois Medical Group

Fall is just around the corner, bringing with it cold and flu season. Is your immune system ready to fight to keep you healthy?

Our immune system is a complex system of glands and cells that interact to protect us from invading organisms. The immune system is divided into two main parts: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system.

The innate system is mostly non-specific, and provides our first line of defense. It includes the different types of barriers like our skin, enzymes in the tears and mucous, inflammation, and the acid in our stomach that prevent invaders from entering our body. Preventing harmful organisms from entering our body limits the need for our adaptive immune system.

The adaptive immune system is primarily composed of T and B white blood cells. These cells respond more specifically to invaders to attack and destroy these organisms. The T and B cells can adapt to different invaders and can develop “memory,” which allows for a faster, stronger response when they find the familiar invader a second time.

All of these systems need proper nutrients to function. Proteins are needed for energy to allow cells to multiply and respond to an invader. Essential fatty acids, like linolenic acid and linoleic acid, and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, like EPA and DHA from fish oils, are also important. These fatty acids are building blocks used by the immune cells to respond to infections. Dietary fiber is important for stimulating the immune cells in the lining of the gut, and for increasing the number of helpful bacteria in the gut.

Vitamins and minerals are also vital to the immune system. Vitamin A, vitamin C and zinc are some of the most widely studied. Vitamin A stimulates many cells in the immune system, including cells in the skin and mucous membranes. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant, and can protect sensitive immune cells from free-radical damage. The mineral zinc is involved in more than 100 different enzymatic reactions in humans, including those that happen inside our immune cells. Our bodies do not store zinc, so we need to maintain sufficient levels through diet and supplementation. Many other vitamins and minerals are also essential to immune function.

Not all supplements are created equal, however. The supplements need to be made from high-quality ingredients, and your body must be able to absorb them. Our office has evaluated supplements from many different manufacturers to provide supplements that are both high-quality and easily absorbed by your body. Talk to your health care provider about how to choose the right supplements to help you stay healthy.

Dr. Jonathan Taylor of Northern Illinois Medical Group, 5301 E. State St., Suite 101, Rockford, IL 61108, can be reached by phone at (815) 397-8500 or e-mail at, or visit

from the Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2009 issue

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