How Do Vitamins Support Immunity?

Vitamins’ dual role: metabolically specific, nutritionally supportive

Remember how vitamins were discovered in the first place?  Night blindness (vitamin A), rickets (vitamin D), pellagra (niacin), scurvy (vitamin C), and pernicious anemia (vitamin B12) were all found to be specific diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies or imbalances—NOT caused by infectious agents or other disease vectors. 

In the US, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) defines a nutritional deficiency as a “well documented condition directly resulting from deficiency of a single essential nutrient.” In the eyes of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), feed ingredients for livestock are defined either as a food or as a drug (“a product used to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat or prevent disease”). In the U.S. animal feed industry, there is no dietary supplement category, which exists in the human arena as a middle ground of “not designed to prevent or treat disease.”  The good news for clinicians and livestock nutritionists is that most vitamin supplementation guidelines have been adapted under practical conditions which include normal disease or immunity challenges.

What’s changing is our understanding of how vitamins perform their metabolic functions (the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life) and how interrelated certain processes, including immunity, can be, even while narrowly defining vitamins as preventive for specific nutritional deficiency diseases.  Using Merriam-Webster’s (2023) definition of immunity as “being able to resist a particular disease, especially through preventing development of a pathogenic microorganism,” immunity becomes a complicated balance between protective barrier functions, pathogen neutralization (immunostimulatory), and host protection (anti-inflammatory).  A short list of known vitamin-supported functions involved in immunity include:

  • Energy and protein metabolism (examples: B1, B2, B6, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin).  These provide structure and fuel for animals to maintain production and resist disease, as do all nutrients.  
  • Growth, cell maintenance (examples: folic acid, B12).  Certain vitamins have specific functions in supporting cell growth, structural integrity, and red blood cell production.
  • Barrier functions. A good example is vitamin A, which supports epithelial integrity, gut enterocytes, and maintenance of goblet cells which produce mucin, a microbial barrier in the gut.  Vitamin B6 is also involved in mucin synthesis.
  • Antioxidants (vitamin E, C). Because many of the immune reactions generate damaging metabolites such as superoxide or nitric oxide which are necessary for the neutralization of pathogens, the role of antioxidants in quenching these reactions and protecting host tissue has been widely studied in every specie.
  • Anti-inflammation. An example is a recent broiler study (Morris et al, 2014) whereby supplemental HyD® 25-OH-D3 improved immune response by both reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines while also stimulating nitric oxide production (oxidative burst) by neutrophils.
  • Gene expression. 1, 25- OH-D3 binds to vitamin D receptors in immune cells which upregulates production of several antimicrobial molecules (Liu et al, 2006).
  • Gut microbiome interactions. The gastrointestinal tract and its contents represent 70% of an animal’s immune system.  Several vitamins, including vitamin D, directly influence composition and diversity of the microbiome.

Vitamins have diverse roles in supporting growth, production, and homeostatic functions including immunity. Our increased understanding of these roles is reflected in dsm-firmenich OVN Optimum Vitamin Nutrition®  supplementation guidelines for animal feed.  The relative importance of vitamin supplementation increases during special production challenges, such as non-antibiotic programs.

(References available on request).

Published on

21 August 2023


  • Poultry
  • Swine
  • Ruminants
  • Aquaculture
  • Vitamins

Related Articles

  • Vitamin E: Improving Color Case-Life and Quality in Beef

    Vitamin E: Improving Color Case-Life and Quality in Beef

    17 Jun 2024

    Vitamin E, recognized for its antioxidant properties, plays a significant role in meat products' color stability and shelf life. This article explores the impact of Vitamin E on the color case-life of meat, a crucial factor in marketability and consumer perception.

  • Q3 Vitamin Market Update: Rising Prices and Supply Challenges in the Vitamin Industry

    Q3 Vitamin Market Update: Rising Prices and Supply Challenges in the Vitamin Industry

    17 Jun 2024

    The vitamin market is currently navigating through a period of dynamic changes and opportunities. Recent supply disruptions, maintenance shutdowns, and evolving global market conditions are influencing price movements across various vitamins. From Vitamin E to Vitamin B12, producers and buyers are responding to a landscape marked by reduced supply, increased costs, and shifting demand. This environment not only highlights the resilience and adaptability of the market but also presents unique prospects for strategic purchasing and planning.

  • Q2 Vitamin Outlook

    Q2 Vitamin Outlook

    18 Mar 2024

    The vitamin market continues to navigate through a period of volatility and change. While certain segments are witnessing price firming due to limited spot supply and post-CNY uncertainties, others are faced with oversupply concerns and production disruptions. The return of Chinese market participants from holidays could introduce new dynamics, potentially influencing market trends and pricing strategies for the upcoming negotiations. As manufacturers and distributors adapt to these evolving conditions, it is essential for industry players to remain agile and responsive to market and supply shifts. Looking ahead, careful monitoring of supply chain dynamics and consumer demand, will be crucial for navigating the vitamin market landscape and capitalizing on emerging opportunities.


You are being redirected.

We detected that you are visitng this page from United States. Therefore we are redirecting you to the localized version.