Since the pandemic erupted, boosting immunity with nutrition has been a primary consideration of most medical protocols and guidelines released by health authorities. However, with the abundance in the varieties of vitamin and mineral supplements available, it can be daunting to identify which among them would really be useful in shielding against the dreaded novel coronavirus disease. This has been made more problematic with the proliferation of unsubstantiated claims and advices online.
While all vitamins and minerals are essential in maintaining good health, several scientific reviews published in medical journals this 2020 were able to point out the key vitamins and minerals most studied for the purpose of protecting against infectious diseases.
Vitamin C is a classic and well-known anti-oxidant. In a review published in Nutrients, Muhammad Iddir and his team of researchers from the Nutrition and Health Research Group of the Luxembourg Institute of Health noted that daily supplementation of Vitamin C at 700-800 mg per day is able to reduce the duration of common colds. Vitamin C was also found to improve respiratory conditions which can be beneficial as well in this time of pandemic.1 Similarly, in a review by Emma Derbyshire and Joanne Delange in the British Medical Journal, Vitamin C supplementation was also shown to reduce the occurrence of pneumonia.
Aside from its established role in maintaining a healthy eyesight, Vitamin A may also enhance resistance to infection by promoting an immediate response to the invasion of microbes and through activation of natural killer cells.3 A review done by a group of researchers led by Jayawardena R., Sooriyaarachchi P. et al. published in Diabetes Metabolic Syndrome Journal shared that in children from 2-8 years old, supplementation of Vitamin A had enhanced immune response to influenza virus. Also, supplementation to infants has shown the potential to improve antibody response.
The role of B vitamins is not only limited to their well-known effects on nerves and brain functions. B vitamins are needed for the processing of the building blocks of proteins to form infection fighting antibodies. Iddir and his co-authors also found that B vitamins are valuable in reducing body injury following viral infection which is associated with a lower inflammatory state.
Vitamin D is formed in the skin through the action of sunlight on its cholesterol derivative. Derbyshire and Delange found that Vitamin D administration lowers the incidence and severity of respiratory viral disease.3 This is supported by the findings of Sarah Michienzi and Melissa Badowski in their review published in Drug Content Journal that Vitamin D increases antiviral defenses which is a safety strategy to protect against acute respiratory tract infection.
Vitamin E is another highly recognized anti-oxidant. It works with Vitamin C to protect the integrity of the cellular defenses against infection from damage caused by free radicals. In their review, Iddir and his co-authors discussed how a study on elderly patients recovering from pneumonia had lower re-hospitalization rates when given vitamin E.
Must-have Minerals or Trace Elements in This Time of Pandemic
Known to many, low levels of minerals and trace elements in the body is also associated with increased risk of infection. Here are some of the minerals that could be considered to strengthen the body’s immune system:
Zinc is a very important mineral in the body’s fight for infection. Derbyshire and Delange found that zinc supplementation can reduce the incidence and duration of pneumonia.3 Meanwhile, Iddir and his co-authors shared that zinc supplementation reduced the duration of colds from 7.6 days to 4.4 days. They also found that there has been twice the number of reported deaths from pneumonia in patients with low zinc levels than the ones with the normal zinc levels in the body.
Aside from its known use for anemia, iron has an important role in the body’s immune response. Iron is used by white blood cells to form highly reactive compounds to kill bacteria. It was found that by receiving 3 months of iron supplementation, recurrences of acute respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, and gastroenteritis were significantly reduced.
Selenium deficiencies have been associated with clinical improvement with viral infection specifically in children.2 Dietary selenium supplementations were also found to increase cellular immune response thru enhance immune cell proliferation.
Copper, like iron, has a role in innate immune response specifically on invading microbes. Important in antibody production and immunity, copper plays a role in fighting against viral infection by inhibiting the replication of influenza viruses.
Although it is best to eat the right food, vitamins and minerals may not always be enough in food to provide the complete set of nutrients that the body needs especially during this challenging times. In this case, the practical solution to provide for this need is to provide vitamin and mineral supplementation. The cure for the novel coronavirus disease may not be at hand yet, but boosting the immunity by supplementation with key vitamins and minerals can offer protection against viral infections. In all of these, the best advice on your nutrition will be from your doctor.
As the timeless adage goes, prevention is better than cure.
1. Iddir M, Brito A, Dingeo G, et al. Strengthening the Immune System and Reducing Inflammation and Oxidative Stress through Diet and Nutrition: Considerations During the COVID-19 Crisis. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):E1562. Published 2020 May 27. doi:10.3390/nu12061562
2. Jayawardena R, Sooriyaarachchi P, Chourdakis M, Jeewandara C, Ranasinghe P. Enhancing Immunity in Viral Infections, with Special Emphasis on COVID-19: A review [published online ahead of print, 2020 Apr 16]. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2020;14(4):367-382. doi:10.1016/j.dsx.2020.04.015
3. Derbyshire E, Delange J COVID-19: Is There a Role for Immunonutrition, Particularly in the over 65s? BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health 2020;bmjnph-2020-000071. doi: 10.1136/bmjnph-2020-000071
4. Michienzi SM, Badowski ME. Can vitamins and/or supplements Provide Hope Against C oronavirus?. Drugs Context. 2020;9:2020-5-7. Published 2020 Jun 22. doi:10.7573/dic.2020-5-7