Ask-the-Expert: How can nutrition help improve the body’s defense system?

Talking Nutrition Editors

Supporting immunity

  • Immune health has never been more topical. With rising consumer awareness due to seasonal influenza virus or outbreaks such as novel Coronavirus, there is also an increased risk from environmental stresses.
  • In addition to basic hygiene practices, supporting the body’s natural defenses with essential nutrients is recommended to boost immunity and reduce the chances of contracting viral infections.
  • In our latest Ask-the-Expert interview, Prof. Manfred Eggersdorfer discusses how the nutrition industry can support immune health and the role of marketing teams in highlighting the importance of nutrition to consumers.

For more information on developing and marketing solutions for immune health, download dsm-firmenich’s new whitepaper ‘Nutritional solutions to optimize immunity’.

Health check: the factors contributing to immune health

From harmful bacteria and allergens, to stress and air pollution, there are many factors that can affect our immune health. When these factors are compounded by one another, the risk of immune dysfunction grows.

Today, consumers are exposed to a greater number of these risks than ever before. Outbreaks such as the seasonal influenza virus or the novel Coronavirus are adding to concerns and heightening consumer awareness of the importance of a strong immune system. In turn, this is driving demand for solutions to manage the perceived health risks.

Here, we speak to Dr. Manfred Eggersdorfer, Professor for Healthy Ageing at University Medical Center Groningen, The Netherlands, about the role of nutrition in boosting immune health and how those marketing such products can highlight the benefits to consumers.

How can we reduce the chance of viruses and infections spreading?

Basic hygiene is the first and most effective method of defense against contagious diseases such as influenza, the common cold and even the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This includes regular hand washing, as well as coughing or sneezing into a flexed elbow or tissue.

While these basic hygiene practices are the most important interventions, there are also other modifiable factors and actions that can be taken to improve immune health more generally.

How can consumers boost their immunity?

While individual immune performance can be affected by age, general health and environmental factors, a growing body of research suggests that measures can be implemented to support and optimize immunity throughout life. There is, for instance, strong evidence that nutrition helps to enhance immune function.

We know that those with imbalanced dietary habits are at risk of inadequate nutrient status. For example, ‘hidden hunger’ – which is where an individual’s diet is high in energy but low in nutrients - is a growing concern in all over the world, including Western societies. Clinical evidence shows that this, and any other kind of malnutrition, could be one of the leading causes of immunodeficiency disorders worldwide.1 Further studies have revealed that nutritional interventions are able to resolve secondary immunodeficiency disorders associated with these nutrient deficiencies, ultimately suggesting nutritional intervention can have positive effects on the immune system.

What nutrient insights can you share?

Thanks to various studies, we know that doses of vitamin C from 200 to 500 mg per day strengthen the body’s ability to counteract infections due to an increased mobility of neutrophils, which is the first line of our body’s defense system. Similarly, a number of studies have reported that higher doses of vitamin C up to 1 to 2 g per day reduce duration and severity of common colds.2,3,4

Other data have suggested that vitamins A, D, E, the B vitamins, selenium, zinc and omega-3 DHA and EPA play a role in immune function too.

How do we share these benefits with consumers?

Awareness and education about the role essential micronutrients play in a human’s immune system is a key. Many consumers already know that vitamin C can support immune function but reiterating this, alongside highlighting the benefits of other nutrients, is important. This can be done through a range of activities, from on-pack messaging to online content.

Dietary supplements and fortified on-the-go food and beverages that contain these nutrients, such as juices, tea and yogurts, are great options. This is because they can be easily consumed and integrated into busy lifestyles – making it easy for consumers to make positive changes to the nutritional balance of their everyday diet. We know that these products appeal to consumers too. In a recent consumer survey, consumers globally stated they are exploring ways to boost their immunity through diet (32%) and dietary supplement use (22%).5

Adequate intake of immune-boosting nutrients is a supporting measure to official advice around hygiene and isolation and offers consumers a cost-effective, safe and convenient way to boost the body’s defenses.

Published on

25 February 2020


  • Health Benefit Solutions
  • Health & Nutrition
  • Article
  • Marketing


3 min read

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  1. Op. cit. (Wintergerst et al.).
  2. Hemilä H, Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD000980.
  3. Ran L, Zhao W, Wang J, et al. (2018). Extra dose of vitamin C based on a daily supplementation shortens the common cold: A meta-analysis of 9 randomized controlled trials. BioMed Res. Int. 2018: 1837634.
  4. Carr A C and Maggini S. (2017). Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients 9: 1211; doi:10.3390/nu9111211.
  5. dsm-firmenich, ‘Global health concerns’, [report], 2019.

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