With such a huge focus on immune health over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may not come as a surprise that the UK government and other national bodies are focussing on the ways in which we can improve the population’s immune function and general health.

This week’s Nutrition News summarises the latest nutritional research, including a recently launched government review into vitamin D. Read more here.

Government launches review into vitamin D intake

Further to last week’s Nutrition News article, which explored how low vitamin D levels were associated with obesity in men, this week, the UK government has launched a new review into vitamin D intake. With around one in six UK adults and almost 20% of children having below the recommended levels of vitamin D, which becomes more prevalent amongst the elderly, housebound and those from Black and south Asian communities, it has become of huge national huge concern as deficiency leads to rickets, bone pain and muscle weakness.

Speaking of the review’s launch, Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said, “I have launched this call for evidence to identify innovative ways we can encourage people to increase their vitamin D intake and help people live longer, healthier and happier lives.”

As dietary sources of vitamin D are limited and we obtain the majority from exposure to sunlight during the spring and summer months, many people in the UK are unable to achieve the recommended levels.

The review was launched this week by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) and marks the start of a national campaign to raise awareness of the importance of vitamin D. The review will also involve the public, public health experts, retailers, food manufacturers and other industry bodies, securing their vies on how best to improve uptake and tackle disparities.

Study shows how zinc supports the immune system

While most people are aware of the importance of zinc as an essential mineral and for its role in supporting the immune system, little was known about the mechanisms involved in this relationship between zinc and the immune system; until now.

A recent study by scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, reported by News-Medical.net, has uncovered not one, but two ways in which zinc supports the immune system. The first mechanism uncovered by the study shows that zinc is needed for the development of T cells, which fight disease, and it also prompts the regeneration of the thymus, which is the immune organ that produces T cells. The scientists’ study showed that, without zinc, T cells cannot fully mature.

The researchers uncovered that it is the change in zinc levels around cells that is responsible for the kickstarting of the thymus’s regeneration as it releases a key renewing factor. It is thought, following this research, that zinc is accumulated within developing T cells and then released following damage.

While further research is needed, especially with a view to how these learnings could be used in a therapeutic setting, the findings are promising and could inform strategies for healthy ageing as it is known that our thymuses shrink and reduce their T cell output as we age.

Selenium and anti-ageing

We know that selenium is an important trace mineral but research is ongoing into its role in supporting the body as it ages. This article by Medical News Today evaluates the mineral’s potential anti-ageing properties and how it might support us living a long and healthy life.

As a trace mineral, we need to obtain selenium from food but only in small quantities, unlike macro minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulphur. If we don’t obtain enough selenium or are deficient, this can lead to age-related diseases and health problems.

The article looks at a number of studies that highlight selenium’s anti-ageing health properties. It’s thought that selenium offers skin health benefits as it acts as an antioxidant, protecting the skin against ultraviolet (UV) oxidative stress and potentially combatting ageing skin. Another study found that selenium intake was directly associated with longer telomeres, which act as protective caps on the end of our chromosomes, affecting how quickly cells age.

One study referred to by the article suggests that sufficient selenium levels are a common factor amongst centenarians.

While further research is needed to confirm the ways in which selenium may help us age healthily, the current research offers a promising base from which to explore further.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is the Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.