Health Library







Categories > Diet and Nutrition > Vitamins, minerals and herbs

4 key nutrients that ward off viruses

Catching a cold or the flu isn’t inevitable just because you were in a roomful of people who couldn’t stop coughing. You can help ward off illness by feeding your immune system a well-balanced diet. Certain nutrients, especially the following, have been found to help combat illness:

  1. Selenium. Found in Brazil nuts and seafood, this mineral helps protect against the cell damage that occurs during infection. Studies found that selenium-deficient mice were more likely to get aggressive flu bouts than their selenium-fed counterparts were.
  2. Vitamin B6. This member of the complex B vitamin group is responsible for keeping your red blood cells oxygen-rich, which strengthens your immune system. Vitamin B6 is found in beans, fortified cereals, meat, poultry, fish and some fruits and vegetables.
  3. Zinc. Because zinc is responsible for developing and activating the white blood cells that fight infection, even a moderate deficiency can hurt your immune system. Study results have been mixed, but Cleveland Clinic researchers found that zinc lozenges shortened infections’ lives by half. Zinc is found in oysters, fortified cereals, meat, beans and nuts.
  4. Omega-3 fatty acids. The body can’t produce essential fatty acids like omega-3s. But because of their ability to control the inflammation that leads to disease, you need to eat plenty of omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods like nuts, salmon, tuna, mackerel and canola and flaxseed oils.

Garlic, echinacea, ginseng, vitamin E and the probiotics found in some yogurts are thought by some experts to fight infection, but more research is needed. In the meantime, experts recommend eating a diet rich in infection-fighting nutrients such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.