Pharmavite study finds immune health nutrient intakes below estimated average requirement


A study recently published in Nutrients found that there may be an inadequate intake of immune health-related nutrients.


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A study recently published in Nutrients found that there may be an inadequate intake of immune health-related nutrients. The study, conducted by Pharmavite, presents a new analysis of micronutrient usual intake estimates based on data from the 2005–2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), which contains representative data on 26,283 adults over the age of 19. Researchers found that 45% of the U.S. population was below the estimated average requirement (EAR) for vitamin A, 46% was below the EAR for vitamin C, 95% was below the EAR for vitamin D, 84% was below the EAR for vitamin E, and 15% was below the EAR for zinc. These deficiencies either remained the same or increased when compared to the 2003-2007 NHANES.

“A diet rich in whole foods, including colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, low-fat dairy and seafood can provide the essential nutrients needed to meet daily requirements. However, research shows Americans are not eating the foods necessary to meet their needs for key nutrients, which has contributed to nutrient gaps that have been reported for almost 15 years,” said Susan Hazels Mitmesser, PhD, vice president, science and technology at Pharmavite (West Hills, CA). “Findings from our recent analysis show substantial shortfalls in nutrients that support immune health (vitamins A, C, D, E) and some (vitamins C, D, and zinc) are, in fact, higher than previously reported.”

The authors of the study determined that subjects who consumed food plus dietary supplements had a lower prevalence of nutrient inadequacies, compared to food alone. For example, the percentage of the population below the EAR who consumed both food and dietary supplements was 35% for vitamin A, 33% for vitamin C, 65% for vitamin D, 60% for vitamin E, and 11% for zinc, compared to food alone which was 45%, 46%, 95%, 84%, and 15%, respectively.

Along with a healthy diet, multivitamin/mineral supplements, especially those that offer 100% of the recommended daily allowance, may help fill nutrient gaps for essential nutrients, says the study, but may fall short of optimal levels for certain nutrients such as vitamin D and C. For example, the RDA for vitamin D is 600-800 IU, but this is limited to support bone health. Therefore, the Endocrine Society recommends 1500-2000 IU to maintain a minimum serum 25(OH)D concentration of 30 ng/mL, and the authors of the study state that adults over the age of 19 may require doses as high as 10,000 IU per day to correct, treat, or prevent vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin C has an RDA of 75-90 mg/day, but the optimal dose, say the researchers, is at least 200 mg/day to reach 60 μmol/L for optimal cell and tissue levels and to reduce the duration of the common cold. Additional supplementation may therefore be required to meet optimal levels for these and other nutrients. It’s clear that supporting immune health requires a more balanced and long-term approach than the acute support consumers typically seek.

“The current pandemic has caused a focus on overall health; consumers are now showing more of an interest in nutrition and dietary supplements as a way of supporting their immune system. The key immune health nutrients, vitamins A, C, D, E and zinc, must be consumed daily through food or supplements, and each nutrient plays a key role in both the innate and adaptive immune response,” explains Mitmesser. “For dietary supplements, consumers should focus less on ‘boosting’ their immune system and more on establishing adequate levels all year long of nutrients that support both the innate and adaptive immune response.”


  1. Reider CA et al. “Inadequacy of immune health nutrients: Intakes in US adults, the 2005–2016 NHANES.” Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 6 (2020): 1735
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