We’re already getting warnings from the CDC and other prominent doctors and scientists that COVID-19 is not going away. Coupled with the influenza threat, which normally starts around October and lasts through March or April, it’s a good idea to start building up your immune system now.
Here are the vital nutritional supplements that health practitioners recommend to protect you from COVID-19 and influenza.
All the recently published studies are showing that individuals with low levels of vitamin D fared worse from COVID-19 than those with higher levels. Additionally, in a study published April 2020 there is evidence that vitamin D3 supplementation might reduce your risk of influenza and COVID-19 infections and deaths.
The authors of one study recommended that people at risk of influenza and /or COVID-19 consider taking 10,000 IU a day of vitamin D3 for a few weeks to rapidly raise their vitamin D concentrations, followed by 5000 IU a day. For treatment of people who become infected with COVID-19, higher vitamin D3 doses might be useful. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32252338/
Another study advises that older adults, especially those with Parkinson’s disease, should take 2000-5000 IU a day of vitamin D3 which has the potential to slow Parkinson’s while also potentially offering protection against OVID-19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7287983/
How does vitamin D help?
Vitamin D supports immunity in two ways: 1) It is necessary for the production of antiviral peptides in the respiratory tract, making the respiratory tract less likely to be infected with a virus. 2) It helps promote a balanced inflammatory immune response.
Researchers at Northwestern University analyzed publicly available patient data from 10 countries and discovered a strong correlation between vitamin D levels and cytokine storm—a hyper-inflammatory condition caused by an overactive immune system — as well as a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and mortality. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200507121353.htm
According to Ali Daneshkhah, the study’s first author, “Cytokine storm can severely damage lungs and lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome and death in patients. This is what seems to kill a majority of COVID-19 patients, not the destruction of the lungs by the virus itself. It is the complications from the misdirected fire from the immune system.”
The research team believes that this is where vitamin D plays a major role. Vitamin D enhances our innate immune systems, and prevents our immune systems from becoming dangerously overactive. This means that having healthy levels of vitamin D could protect patients against severe complications, including death from COVID-19.
Lead researcher Vadim Backman said, “ Our analysis shows that it might be as high as cutting the mortality rate in half. It will not prevent a patient from contracting the virus, but it may reduce complications and prevent death in those who are infected.“
Getting enough Vitamin D
Vitamin D is made in the skin as a result of exposure to sunlight. The problem is, most of us do not get the sunlight needed for cutaneous vitamin D synthesis.
Vitamin D is actually a hormone that is made in the skin as a result of exposure to sunlight. The problem is, if you live at a latitude of 42 degrees (a line approximately between the northern border of California and Boston) the sun’s rays are too low between November and February for your skin to get the sunlight needed for cutaneous vitamin D synthesis.
If you live at a latitude below 34 degrees north (a line between Lost Angeles and Columbia, South Carolina) your body can make vitamin D from sun exposure yearlong. However, it’s important to expose a large portion of bare skin (like your midriff) to mid-day sun for at least 15 minutes every day. Most people are unable to fit this into their schedule, so vitamin D supplementation is highly recommended, especially since so few foods contain it.
According to Michael Holick, PhD, MD, an internationally recognized expert on vitamin D and director of the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory at Boston University Medical Center, approximately one billion people throughout the world are deficient in vitamin D.
Blacks, Browns, and other dark skinned individuals are at even higher risk for inadequate levels of vitamin D because their skin isn’t able to absorb as much sunlight. This may be one of the reasons that these populations have fared so poorly in the fight against COVID-19.
Foods that are high in vitamin D
- Cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, smoked whitefish, rainbow trout, swordfish
- Milk and fortified non-dairy drinks (orange juice, coconut, soy, almond, etc.)
- Fortified cereals
- Mushrooms are the only food in the produce section that has vitamin D. Portobello, maitake, white button have the highest vitamin D content.
How much should you take?
Dr. Holick says, “I recommend to all of my patients that they should take 2000-3000 IU of vitamin D a day from dietary sources, sensible sun exposure and supplements. I believe that it is important for women to take at least 2000 IU of vitamin D a day. Although many of the studies are association studies there continues to be strong evidence that increasing vitamin D intake has other health benefits besides those for bone health. From my perspective there is no downside to increasing your vitamin D intake to levels I have recommended in “The Vitamin D Solution” which is 1000 IU of vitamin D a day for children and 2000-3000 IU of vitamin D for adults.” https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmra070553
If you’re over 60, consider taking at least 3,000 IU daily during the summer, and take 5,000 IU in the winter if you want to increase your protection against COVIC-19 and other respiratory illnesses.
Zinc is naturally found in the body and is the second most abundant trace element. It is commonly taken to relieve symptoms of the common cold and influenza. It prevents viral replication and the binding of viruses to cells. However, moderate deficiencies can increase the risk of infection.
How does it help?
Researchers are working on lab studies showing how zinc supplementation can help reduce risk of COVID-19. But we know this: Zinc is thoroughly involved in cell-mediated immunity against any infectious agent such as bacteria and virus. Zinc is one of the major factors that control function and proliferation of neutrophils, natural killer (NK) cells, macrophages, and T and B lymphocytes as well as cytokine production by the immune cells. Zinc also mediates protection from the adverse effect of ROS that are generally produced during inflammatory processes.
Zinc supplementation might play an important role to COVID-19 patients by adding immune boosting effects with anti-viral drugs.
Foods that are high in zinc
- Legumes—chickpeas, lentils, beans
- Nuts —cashews,almonds, pinenuts, peanuts
How much should you take?
The recommended daily allowance of zinc will vary according to the age, sex, and health conditions of an individual. For healthy adults, the recommended daily allowance is typically 15–30 mg of elemental zinc. Make sure the supplement contains some copper, which makes the zinc more absorbable. The supplement should contain a ratio of 15 mg of zinc to 1 mg of copper.
Other important supplements
Vitamin C and selenium are antioxidants with lots of studies showing how they help support the immune system.
Selenium is an essential trace element obtained from the diet (i.e. fish, meat and cereals) which has been found to affect the severity of a number of viral diseases in animals and humans.
Margaret Rayman, Professor of Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey, said: “Given the history of viral infections associated with selenium deficiency, we wondered whether the appearance of COVID-19 in China could possibly be linked to the belt of selenium deficiency that runs from the north-east to the south-west of the country.”
Examining data from provinces and municipalities with more than 200 cases and cities with more than 40 cases, researchers found that areas with high levels of selenium were more likely to recover from the virus. For example, in the city of Enshi in Hubei Province, which has the highest selenium intake in China, the cure rate (percentage of COVID-19 patients declared ‘cured’) was almost three-times higher than the average for all the other cities in Hubei Province. By contrast, in Heilongjiang Province, where selenium intake is among the lowest in the world, the death rate from COVID-19 was almost five-times as high as the average of all the other provinces outside of Hubei.
Most convincingly, the researchers found that the COVID-19 cure rate was significantly associated with selenium status, as measured by the amount of selenium in hair, in 17 cities outside of Hubei. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200429105907.htm
How does it help?
Selenium supplementation modulates the inflammatory response in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) patients by restoring the antioxidant capacity of the lungs, thus improving lung function. When there isn’t enough antioxidant capacity in the lungs because of selenium deficiency, mutations within viruses occur. This makes them even more dangerous and infectious.
Foods that are high in selenium
- Brazil nuts
- Pork chops
- Firm Tofu
- Whole wheat pasta, kamut, oatmeal, brown rice
- Shitake mushrooms
How much should you take?
It’s best to make sure you’re eating foods containing selenium. When taken by mouth: Selenium is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth in doses less than 400 mcg daily, short-term. However, selenium is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in high doses or for a long time. Taking doses above 400 mcg can increase the risk of developing selenium toxicity. Most multi-vitamins contain selenium. Check yours (and yes, you shuld be taking a multi-vitamin. Make sure it contains adequate selenium. The recommended Daily Value (DV) or daily allowance for selenium is 55 mcg per day for adults. During pregnancy, a woman should get 60 mcg, and lactating women should get 70 mcg a day.
Look for my next blog in which I’ll discuss how vitamin C infusions can help keep you from being put on a ventilator if you get COVID-19.
Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Boulder Book Store, Tattered Cover Book Store, Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.