Micronutrients to support the immune system against COVID-19

Published May 4, 2021, 1:52 PM

by Dr. Kaycee Reyes

No vax yet? No worries

DISEASE PREVENTION Fruits and vegetables are good sources of micronutrients

If the coronavirus has taught us one thing, it is to keep our health in check. Aside from spending more time with family, discovering cooking, and developing a love for plants, most have also started to be more mindful of what they put in their bodies. This is a good thing, because while the country is still waiting for the majority of the vaccines to arrive, one’s next best defense against COVID-19 is a healthy body and a strong immune system.

Some studies have shown that certain micronutrients may help against this dreaded disease. So what are the important micronutrients to consider to help strengthen the body’s defenses against COVID-19?

When the body is healthy, the immune system functions well too. The immune system works by its innate and adaptive response. When a pathogen such as bacteria or a virus enters the body, the innate or nonspecific response immediately kills the pathogen before it even proliferates. If the pathogen, however, becomes too strong for the innate immune system to control, then the adaptive response comes in. The adaptive immune response has a much slower yet a more specific and targeted response to pathogens. This means they can recognize certain pathogens and provide a protection to the individual, either for a period of time or for a lifetime. The problem arises when there is a weakened immune system that means one is more susceptible to disease.

When COVID-19 hit in late 2019, scientists began to study and were able to determine that those who had health conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung problems, chronic disease, and were obese and of advanced age were more likely to suffer severe illness from the novel coronavirus. This is because these factors can increase the risk of having a weakened immune system.

Unfortunately, for a lot of individuals, health has taken a backseat. According to global statistics from the World Health Organization, worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975, the top cause of death worldwide is cardiovascular disease, and one in four adults do not get enough physical activity. Now, this pandemic has shown how important it is to keep our health in check.

In the absence of vaccines, what should one do? Aside from maintaining social distancing, wearing face masks and shields, and washing hands regularly, keeping the body healthy and strong is key. This includes exercising, eating healthy food, sleeping well, avoiding or refraining from smoking or drinking. Adding important micronutrients may also be key to combat the disease. According to Gröber & Holick (2021), micronutrients such as vitamins A, C, D, selenium, and zinc could help strengthen the immune system against infections, including COVID-19.

1. Vitamin A. Important in immune response. This vitamin also helps in lung repair among other functions. Lack of vitamin A may impair the body’s defenses and may increase the risk of infection. Good sources of vitamin A include poultry and seafood, as well as green leafy vegetables.

2. Vitamin C. An antioxidant that helps in immune response as it protects the cells against free radicals. It also aids in white blood cell production that is also crucial in immune response. Moreover, it also has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anti-bacterial properties. In COVID-19 patients, it has been reported that this vitamin also helps in avoiding cytokine storms that may result in hyperinflammation. Aside from supplementation, good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits and potatoes.

3. Vitamin D. According to research, lack of vitamin D is linked to a higher risk for COVID-19, and also has an impact on its severity (Gröber & Holick, 2021, p. 6). Vitamin D also plays a role in both innate and adaptive immunity, and it reportedly also helps prevent cytokine storms (Gröber & Holick, 2021, p. 8). Adequate sun exposure is key for the body to be able to create vitamin D. Nowadays, supplementation of this vitamin is also possible.

4. Selenium. Also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It helps against viral infections and free radicals. It has been found that those with COVID-19 have lower levels of selenium before getting infected (Gröber & Holick, 2021, p.14). Good sources of selenium include fish, meat, and poultry, aside from supplementation.

5. Zinc. This nutrient is essential in immune function. It is also known for its antiviral properties. It is reported that zinc helps in COVID-19 patients as it helps with the efficiency of drugs such as remdesivir and could also possibly inhibit the proliferation of the virus (Gröber & Holick, 2021, p.15). Moreover, zinc helps in both innate and adaptive immune response, and those who lack in zinc have a higher chance for infection. Food high in zinc includes meat, shellfish, nuts, and dairy.

Pandemic or no pandemic, vaccine or no vaccine, it is important to always keep one’s health on top of the list. To perform daily tasks more efficiently, fight disease, and live longer, make sure to always choose food and activities that promote good health. Don’t forget to have regular check-ups with your physician as well. More studies are needed on micronutrients and their role against this deadly virus. If you are planning to supplement with the suggested micronutrients above, please consult with your physician for a proper recommendation based on your age and health condition. Who knows when the next pandemic will come around? Always choose to live healthy. As they say, health truly is wealth.

Source: Gröber, U. & Holick, M. (2021). The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) – A supportive approach with selected micronutrients International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research.