Immune system of athletes (Part three)

In our older blog post on micronutrients an overview of micronutrients was already given. Generally speaking, micronutrients include water- and fat-soluble vitamins, bulk and trace elements and various plant substances such as antioxidants. Today's Science Friday will take a closer look at trace elements. To differentiate between bulk and trace elements, it should be mentioned that bulk elements are needed in larger quantities (> 50 mg/kg body weight), whereas trace elements are only needed in small amounts (< 50 mg/kg body weight). Apart from the different supply quantities, both bulk and trace elements are important for the functioning of the human body, as they are involved in many body processes.

Each of the essential trace elements presented are vital and have an important function in our body, which are explained in more detail below. 

What are the most important trace elements in our body?

  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Selenium
  • Molybdenum
  • Silicone
  • Iodine
  • Copper
  • Iron 
  • Lithium

Today we are looking at the immune-relevant trace elements:


Zinc is involved in dozens of metabolic processes throughout the body and can have an inhibitory or accelerating effect. It is an important antioxidant without which nothing in the immune system works as it should. Skin problems, mental illness, inflammatory processes and a disturbed acid-base balance are frequently observed in cases of zinc deficiency. Zinc also plays a decisive role in cell division and protects the cell from damage caused by free radicals. 

Recommended daily intake

  • Men: 10 mg
  • Women: 7 mg

Occurrence in 100 g:

  • Liver (pig, calf) 6-8 mg
  • Oysters > 7 mg
  • Lentils 5 mg
  • Whole wheat grain 4 mg 
  • Corn 2,5 mg


Selenium serves as cell protection against aggressive forms of oxygen, which are caused by external influences such as environmental toxins, radiation, smoking etc., but also in normal metabolic processes. In addition, it is very important for our immune defence, as it stimulates the formation of antibodies and natural killer cells. However, this effect can also be reversed if the dosage is excessive.

Recommended daily intake

  • Men: 30 - 70 µg
  • Women: 30 - 70 µg

Occurrence in 100 g:

  • Herring 140 µg
  • Tuna 130 µg
  • Brazil nuts (2-4 pieces) 50-100 µg
  • Soybeans 60 µg


As a component of haemoglobin, iron is involved in the transport and storage of oxygen in the blood.

Iron can also be stored as ferritin (iron-protein complex) or as hemosiderin in the liver, spleen or bone marrow. Iron deficiency can lead to a weakened immune system and thus increase the risk of infection. 

Iron deficiency can also lead to anaemia, tiredness and lack of concentration. 

Recommended daily intake

  • Men: 10 - 12 mg
  • Women: 10 - 15 mg

Occurrence in 100 g: 

  • Oysters 13 mg
  • Soy flour, millet 9 mg 
  • Liver (calf, beef) 7 - 8 mg
  • Lentils 7 mg
  • Oat 5 mg


Burgerstein, U. P., Schurgast, H. & Zimmermann, M. (2012). Handbuch Nährstoffe. 12. Aufl. Verlag: Trias.1.

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