In a previous article, we discussed five vitamins that are necessary to support a healthy immune system. But! What about the minerals? Are there any minerals that are needed to support immune function?

This article will talk about three nutrients vitally important for a healthy immune system. I will explain their role and what you can do to get enough of them. To begin with, critical minerals are zinc, selenium, and iron.

The Role of Minerals in Immune Function:

Iron and Immunity:

Iron is the fundamental mineral information and functioning of the human immune system. It plays a key role in strengthening immunity in several ways. Iron is crucial for the synthesis, formation, and proliferation of immune cells especially lymphocytes. It also impacts the magnitude of response by the cells in an ongoing infection. Iron accumulates in phagocytes and produces free radicals that are toxic to pathogens.

It is also essential for the production of red blood cells and the resulting red blood cells are responsible for providing oxygen to the whole body including immune cells and tissues as well. Without proper oxygen supply, the metabolic function of the immune system would halt; disrupting the whole system. Hence, iron helps to mature the immune system, provides the scavenging role, and helps to clear the inflammation by an adequate amount of oxygen. The deficiency of iron does make a difference and may lead to enhanced susceptibility to common infections.

Selenium and Immunity:

Selenium, a strong antioxidant, is one of the essential micronutrients that are important for thyroid hormones metabolism, maintenance of heart health, prevention against cancer, and boosting the immune system. This less talked about mineral should be present in just the right amounts for the optimum functioning of the immune system as deficient quantity impairs the immunity while excess amounts are quite toxic.

It is not only important for initiating the immune response but also required for immune-regulation thus preventing the excessive response. Selenium can affect the white blood cells and enhance their abilities of adherence, movement, phagocytosis, and releasing the immune chemicals like cytokines. Selenium deficiency adversely alters the response of immune cells (white blood cells) during initiation, activation, and regulation of immune response. It results in increased oxidative stress, more inflammation, and compromised regulation of immune functions.


Zinc and Immunity:

Zinc plays various key roles in establishing effective immunity. It is responsible for the formation and maturation of many immune cells including white blood cells and T cells. It mediates the innate as well as adaptive immunity by enhancing the efficiency of phagocytosis, pathogens’ killing, and cytokines production. Zinc acts as a cofactor in many enzymatic pathways required for the normal functioning of the immune system. Studies have established the link of deficient zinc with impaired immunity due to fewer natural killer (NK) cells and less release of immune chemicals like interleukin-2.


How to Get Enough of These Important Minerals?

Best Sources of Iron: RDA (recommended dietary allowance) of iron varies according to age and sex. Females usually require more iron due to its regular loss during menses. General iron demand is 8mg/day to maintain its adequate stores in all age groups. However pregnant females need about 27mg/day. Iron can be obtained either from animal-based sources of plants. It is more effectively absorbed from animal sources rather than plants. It is generously present in:

  • Liver(chicken or lamb)
  • Lean beef
  • Sardines
  • Oysters
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Canned salmon
  • Legumes (beans and chickpeas)
  • Tempeh
  • Nuts (cashews, almonds)
  • Green vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach)
  • Baked potatoes


Best Sources of Selenium: Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for selenium is 70mcg/day to 350mcg according to WHO (world health organization). Rich sources of dietary selenium include:

  • Brazil nuts
  • Tuna
  • Oysters (shellfish)
  • Halibut
  • Sardines
  • Ham
  • Lean beef
  • Turkey
  • Firm tofu
  • Shrimp
  • Egg
  • Baked beans

Best Sources of Zinc: RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for zinc is 8-10mg/day and it is adequately found in:

  • Oysters
  • Beef
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Legumes like chickpeas
  • Nuts like pine nuts, peanuts, and cashews
  • Dairies like milk and yogurt


The Bottom Line 

When it comes to supporting immune function iron, selenium, and zinc are three minerals we need in our diet. The best way to ensure that you’re getting enough of them is by eating a variety of whole foods including those listed above. Understanding the nutritional benefits of these powerful micronutrients and the foods that contain them will help you in your journey to becoming super immune.


What Do You Think?



[Role of iron in immunity and its relation with infections]. – PubMed – NCBI

Iron and immunity: immunological consequences of iron deficiency and overload

The Role of Selenium in Inflammation and Immunity: From Molecular Mechanisms to Therapeutic Opportunities

Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells

Selenium in the Immune System | The Journal of Nutrition | Oxford Academic

Selenium – Health Professional Fact Sheet

Zinc – Health Professional Fact Sheet

Foods high in iron | healthdirect


Chef Shedric

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