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Tag: Immunity

Vaccine vs. COVID-19: Where Are We Now?

As the world continues to struggle with the overwhelming impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine researchers around the globe are diligently working on developing the means to definitively control the further spread of the deadly virus, SARS-CoV-2.

There are generally three phases of vaccine testing on humans prior to being licensed for use. As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration explains, Phase 1 or initial human studies are done to determine safety and ability of the vaccine to induce an immune response and is performed in a small number of closely monitored subjects.  Phase 2 studies are done with different dosages of the vaccine and may have to enroll hundreds of subjects.  Finally, Phase 3 trials typically enroll thousands of individuals to critically document the effectiveness and important additional safety data required for licensing.

In the draft landscape of COVID-19 line-up of vaccines released by the WHO on 20 July 2020, 24 candidate vaccines are already at various phases of testing in humans.

Since there is no specific treatment yet for a novel disease like COVID-19, the news about development of vaccines for this dreadful disease that has inflicted millions provides a ray of hope amidst the gloomy pandemic.  The world now is in watchful anticipation of genuine outcomes.

Amino Acids: The Building Blocks of Life Boost the Body’s Immunocompetence

Amino acids which are called  the building blocks of life, constitute body proteins. Proteins are of prime importance to the human body as they are the basic nutrients required for the formation, growth, maintenance and repair of the different body structures. Proteins are essential for the production of compounds vital for normal body functions, such as hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes and immunoglobulins commonly known as antibodies. In this respect, amino acids, serving as building blocks of the antibodies, tissues and organs of the immune system, are regarded as immune system builders.

A lot of studies have emphasized the significant role of amino acids as fundamental components of the body’s immune system. The key role of amino acids in promoting the health of the immune system has been widely appreciated in clinical practice particularly in the management of  patients with deficient diet, infectious diseases and those who underwent operative procedures.

Aside from serving as building blocks in the production of antibodies, studies have noted that amino acids help in the body’s fight against infection by supporting the proliferation and activation of white blood cells, which are called “the body’s soldiers”. Amino acids allow the formation of signaling molecules, the protein substances that function for a coordinated immune function

Peng Li, together with a team of researchers, detailed in a scientific review published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2007, the results of various studies indicating the important role of amino acids in boosting the immune responses by regulating some immune system mechanisms including  the activation of white blood cells such as T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, natural killer cells and macrophages; gene expression and lymphocyte proliferation; and the production of antibodies, and other signaling proteins of the immune system.1 

It has been long recognized that the lack or deficiency of proteins in the diet can adversely affect the immune function and increase the body’s susceptibility to infection. As explained by Peng Li and his co-authors, decreased concentrations of amino acids in the plasma following protein malnutrition compromises the production and function of immune cells.1

When the diet fails to meet the body’s requirement for amino acids, or when the body is in a state of nutrient losses which increases protein requirements, as in serious or chronic illnesses, infections and trauma, supplementation of essential amino acids becomes inevitable.

Supplementation with amino acids is specifically valuable during states of increased protein demand by the body and considerable protein or nutrient losses such as in infectious diseases and when the body does strenuous physical activities. Increased protein loss and increased protein requirements are also associated with stressful conditions, pregnancy, wounds, bone fracture, burns, post-operative states, period of convalescence, restrictive diet, anorexia and starvation.  

Among amino acids considered for supplementation, studies have paid particular attention to the branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs referring to the group of three essential amino acids: valine, leucine, and isoleucine.

In a scientific review written in 2006 for the Journal of Nutrition by Oxford Academic, researcher Philip Calder explained that the cells involved in immune system functions incorporate branched chain amino acids into proteins. During infection, there is a significant increase in the demand of the immune system for substrates such as amino acids that become precursors for the manufacture of protective protein molecules.2

Various studies have shown that supplementation of BCAAs, Isoleucine, Leucine, and Valine, helps prevent symptoms of infection among athletes and improve survival of septic patients.

Reinaldo Abunasser Bassit and his colleagues from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences, University of São Paulo, Brazil did a research on the benefits of BCAA supplementation in athletes participating in a triathlon and found that BCAA led to significantly lower incidences of infection (33.84%) when compared with those of receiving placebo.3

Meanwhile, in a study published in Critical Care Medicine in 1997researchers from Madrid, Spain led by Dr. Abelardo García-de-Lorenzo found that placing septic patients on parenteral nutrition with more branched chain amino acids significantly lowered mortality rates, thereby improving survival.4 

Appreciating the fundamental link between protein intake and the body’s ability to fight off  illnesses and infections, it becomes imperative to ensure the individual’s adequate supply of amino acids, the building blocks of the protein components of the immune system, to optimize the body’s immunocompetence.


Li P, Yin YL, Li D, Kim SW, Wu G. Amino acids and immune function. Br J Nutr.

Calder PC. Branched-chain amino acids and immunity. J Nutr.

Bassit RA, Sawada LA, Bacurau RF, Navarro F, Costa Rosa LF. The effect of BCAA supplementation upon the immune response of triathletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc.

García-de-Lorenzo A, Ortíz-Leyba C, Planas M, et al. Parenteral administration of different amounts of branch-chain amino acids in septic patients: clinical and metabolic aspects. Crit Care Med.

Scientific Reviews Identified Key Nutrients That Can Boost the Body’s Immune System in Times of Pandemic

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

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.

Vitamin A

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.

B Vitamins

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

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

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.


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.

Jayawardena R, Sooriyaarachchi P, Chourdakis M, Jeewandara C, Ranasinghe P. Enhancing Immunity in Viral Infections, with Special Emphasis on COVID-19: A review. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 

Derbyshire E, Delange J COVID-19: Is There a Role for Immunonutrition, Particularly in the over 65s? BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.

Michienzi SM, Badowski ME. Can vitamins and/or supplements Provide Hope Against Coronavirus?. Drugs Context.