Public health practices including hand washing and vaccinations help reduce the spread and impact of infections.
Nevertheless, the global burden of infection is high, and additional measures are necessary.
Acute respiratory tract infections, for example, were responsible for approximately 2.38 million deaths worldwide in 2016.
The role nutrition plays in supporting the immune system is well-established.
A wealth of mechanistic and clinical data show that vitamins, including:
- Vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and folate
- Trace elements, including zinc, iron, selenium, magnesium, and copper
- and the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid
These nutrients all play important and complementary roles in supporting the immune system.
Inadequate intake and status of these nutrients are widespread, leading to a decrease in resistance to infections and as a consequence an increase in disease burden.
Against this background the following conclusions are made:
1. supplementation with the above micro-nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids is a safe, effective, and low-cost strategy to help support optimal immune function.
2. supplementation above the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), but within recommended upper safety limits, for specific nutrients such as vitamins C and D is warranted.
3. public health officials are encouraged to include nutritional strategies in their recommendations to improve public health.