Expert insights: How can dietary supplements support optimal immune and vaccine response?

By:  Talking Nutrition Editors

  • Supporting the immune system with optimal nutrition is one important way to facilitate a healthy immune response and reduce the risk and impact of viral infections. But did you know that the same mechanisms involved during an effective immune response are also triggered following vaccination to generate immunity?
  • In dsm-firmenich’s latest webinar – ‘Laying the nutritional foundation for optimal immune and vaccine responses’ – we were joined by renowned immunology expert, Prof. Philip Calder, as well as dsm-firmenich’s Dr. Jim Richards and Dr. Geetika Saraswat, to explore why nutrition is key for an optimal vaccine response and the important role that dietary supplements may play in addressing nutrient gaps.
  • Read on for a roundup of the expert insights and conclusions uncovered during the session’s panel discussion, and how you can transform these findings into innovative solutions in the dietary supplement space.  

With the ongoing global COVID-19 vaccine rollout, ensuring a robust vaccine response is critical to protecting populations worldwide. Just as it impacts immune function, nutritional status can influence vaccine effectiveness too, because vaccines stimulate the immune system in the same way that infections do. Based on an extensive body of preclinical and clinical data, it is widely accepted that an adequate status of vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and folate, as well as omega-3 polyunsaturated acids (PUFA), zinc, selenium, copper and iron support the immune response, and consequently the success of a vaccine. That’s because these nutrients play important roles in regulating the immune system, are essential for immune cell function, protect us against oxidative stress and are involved in the production of antibodies.1

However, the vitamin and mineral intake required for optimal immune function can be difficult to reach through diet alone.2,3 Increasing awareness of the benefits of nutrition, plus growing concerns surrounding immunity, are driving demand for more products that support immune health. Dietary supplements, for example, are a safe and effective way to complement a balanced, varied diet and provide the micronutrients needed for a healthy immune system and an effective vaccine response. Read on to discover key insights from our panel of experts, including the important role of nutritional supplements for long-term immunity, and inspiration for your next innovation. 

Want to learn more about how nutrition lays the foundation for optimal immune and vaccine responses? Catch up on-demand.

Science digest: the link between nutrition, immunity and vaccinations

Despite having good understanding of the benefits of adequate nutrition on immune health, research and development has accelerated significantly since the emergence of COVID-19 to gain clarity on the role of specific nutrients in immune function. An extensive number of studies are ongoing to learn more about the links between nutrients, immune health and viral defense, as well as other risk factors. In addition, with vaccines being rolled out globally, research is underway to establish the impact of vitamin and mineral status on vaccine response. Findings to date suggest that optimal nutrition – in adjunct to vaccinations – may be an important and effective strategy in the context of viral infections.

Of course, while good nutrition is essential, it is only one of numerous modifiable factors. During the session, Prof. Calder and Dr. Jim Richards stressed the impact of lifestyle factors – including stress, sleep, obesity, smoking and excessive drinking – on the immune and vaccine response. Individuals with obesity, for example, are at a higher risk of being infected with COVID-19 and experiencing more severe symptoms. This may be because people with obesity are in a constant state of low-level inflammation and at the same time have a diminished immune response. Additionally, data shows that co-morbidities associated with obesity, like diabetes, make individuals even more vulnerable to infection. With this in mind, a combination of nutrition and lifestyle strategies are important for optimal immune function.

Looking beyond good diet: the role of dietary supplements

Ideally adequate nutritional intake would be achieved through a diverse, well-balanced diet alone. However, global data shows that nutrient deficiencies are widespread worldwide.4,5 What’s more, new findings suggest that an optimal immune response actually requires higher intake of certain micronutrients. So, while a healthy diet provides the nutrients the immune system needs, the question researchers across the nutrition industry have been exploring more recently, is whether it provides sufficient quantities of each.

Prof. Calder gave the example of vitamin D. It is well-known that vitamin D status is low in most individuals globally, and because of this supplementation (10 mg/d) is recommended for adults in many countries. However, the published requirements for vitamin D have not been developed with immune function in mind, but rather bone health. There is now compelling data to show that the immune system requires a higher status of vitamin D for healthy immune function than the skeletal system does. For this reason, supplemental sources may help individuals achieve the nutritional status required to lay the foundation for robust immune and vaccine responses.

How do our nutritional needs change throughout life?

The nutrients mentioned above support the immune system regardless of life stage because the mechanism behind immune cell function remains the same. However, the source as well as the amounts required may vary due to bodyweight, which results in different upper tolerable levels. What’s more, specific vitamins and minerals can also play changing roles in the immune system as we age. When we’re born, for example, the immune system is immature and there is a high demand for nutrients that support its development and maturation. Following this, good nutrition is mainly required to sustain immune function, but in older individuals, whose immune function is less efficient, a higher status of nutrients is needed to prolong the effectiveness of the immune response and slow its decline. For example, research shows that higher levels of vitamin E (200 mg/d) are needed to optimally support immunity in senior adults – for both T-cell immunity and vaccine responses.6,7,8 Elevated levels of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids and selenium may also be beneficial in this population.9

Transforming scientific insights into immune health innovation

Immunity has gained immense interest and awareness due to COVID-19, but immune health is not something that is just related to this moment. It is important to support our immune system at all times, to help us better fight off infection and improve our response to vaccinations. A small survey completed during dsm-firmenich’s webinar revealed that 74% of attendees agreed there will be a permanent change in demand for immunity supporting products and solutions as a result of the pandemic.

This creates significant opportunities for innovation in the dietary supplement space. However, bringing purpose-led nutritional solutions to the market takes more than ingredients. It takes a partner that is inspired by consumers to continuously innovate to meet their needs. When you partner with dsm-firmenich, you get access to our broad portfolio of science-backed products, customized solutions and expert services at every stage of your product’s development process, so you can meet the ever-evolving nutritional needs of consumers.

Discover how dsm-firmenich can help you bring insight-led immune health solutions to consumers quickly, safely and effectively.

Published on

15 July 2021


  • Optimize your immunity
  • Nutritional Lipids
  • Vitamins
  • New Science
  • Article
  • R&D


5 min read

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  1. Gombart AF, Pierre A, Maggini S. A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System - Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection. Nutrients 2020.
  2. Calder PC. Nutrition, immunity and COVID-19. BMJ Nutr Prev Health vol. 3, pg. 74-92, 2020.
  3. Rayman M. and Calder P. Optimising COVID-19 vaccine efficacy by ensuring nutritional adequacy. British Journal of Nutrition, pg. 1-2, 2021.
  4. Bailey RL et al. The epidemiology of global micronutrient deficiencies. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, vol. 66, no. 2, pg. 22-33, 2015.
  5. Ritchie & Roser. Micronutrient deficiency. [website], accessed 2 July 2021.
  6. Meydani SN et al. Vitamin E supplementation and in vivo immune response in healthy elderly subjects. A randomized controlled trial. JAMA, vol. 277, no. 17, pg. 1380-1386, 1997.
  7. Meydani SN et al. Perspective: should vitamin E recommendations for older adults be increased? Advances in Nutrition, vol. 9, no. 5, pg. 533-543, 2018.
  8. Lee & Han. The role of vitamin E in immunity. Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 11, pg. 1614, 2018.
  9. Calder PC et al. Optimal nutritional status for a well-functioning immune system is an important factor to protect against viral infections. Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 4, pg. 1181, 2020.

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