Immunoboosters: Can supplements help during COVID-19 outbreak?

  • Fitterfly - Team Nutrition

  • Posted On April 09, 2020

Covid-19

"During these hard times, it is our good health and good sleep that are enjoyable."    - Knute Nelson

Status Quo

COVID-19 is omnipresent. Since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, fear and panic have travelled globally. The burden of this disease has even questioned the medical infrastructure of developed nations, including America.

So what do we do in our country with a population density of 464 per sq. Km where social distancing, hygiene precautions seem almost impossible to achieve?

What affects your immunity?

This virus plays with an individual's immunity - which means that the severity of the infection depends on your immuno-competence. Also, every individual has a different kind of immune system with their daily activity greatly impacting the system’s strength.

Factors such as stress, an unhealthy diet, inadequate sleep, obesity, lack of physical activity, alcohol, and protein deficiency are known to lower immunity. That said, a few positive lifestyle modifications can help boost our immune system.

Immuno-boosters - Gimmick or Solution?

With the high mortality rate and the number of infected individuals increasing exponentially every day, online searches for ways to bolster the immune system have surged.

Supplements that have long been the subject of research on cold and flu relief are selling fast.

These include:

  • Zinc
  • Vitamins- Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Vitamin E
  • Elderberry extract
  • American ginseng
  • Echinacea
  • Garlic
  • Honey (as a nighttime cough remedy for children)
  • Saline Nasal Irrigation or rinsing the nose and sinuses (with a neti pot or other device)
  • Probiotics
  • Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata)
  • Chinese herbal medicines
  • Green tea
  • Hydrotherapy

However, there are limited studies, inadequate and conflicting evidence which can prove the efficacy of these supplements in enhancing immunity.

In short, there are no superfoods/immune boosters to fight against COVID-19.

So, should we continue having these supplements?

Well, it could be a double-edged sword. In addition to a financial burden to one's pocket, it may do more harm than good.

Taking large doses of single vitamins and minerals have risks. Excessive levels of zinc, for example, can disrupt the body's uptake of copper, increasing the likelihood of anaemia.

Vitamin D in high doses can be toxic. Vitamins and herbal supplements can also interact with prescription medications, dampening their effectiveness.

Taking supplements without consulting the doctor can be especially dangerous for the elderly and people with comorbid conditions.

Whole Food vs Supplements: The Big Debate

For people with no known vitamin or mineral deficiency, the need for supplement remains questionable - especially if they are eating a healthy diet. The physician is the best judge here.

Meet your daily vitamin and nutrient requirement by including anti-inflammatory foods in your diet to strengthen your immunity.

These include whole foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, nuts, legumes and milk that contain a wide range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Work-in-progress

A vaccine is humanity’s best chance against this virus. Research is being carried out at breakneck speed around the world to find one.

Many antiviral drugs are also being tested. The efficacy of prescription antiviral drugs (remdesivir initially developed as an Ebola drug) against this novel coronavirus is still under research. The trial data on HIV drugs (lopinavir and ritonavir) was disappointing.

Laboratory test of an anti-malarial drug, namely chloroquine, has shown that it can kill the virus and there is some anecdotal evidence from doctors that it appears to help.

However, as per the WHO report, there is no definitive evidence of its effectiveness.

Take-Home Message

  • A healthy immune system is our best bet against COVID-19.
  • While the efficacy of immune-boosting supplements remains questionable, a healthy lifestyle can help boost your immunity.
  • Till we find a vaccine against the virus, focus on eating a healthy diet, exercising, practising good sleep hygiene and managing stress to help optimise your immune system to fight COVID-19.

Eat the best, sleep & rest, leave the rest.

References:

  1. Tiralongo, Evelin et al. “Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.” Nutrients vol. 8,4 182. 24 Mar. 2016, doi:10.3390/nu8040182
  2. Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD001364. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub4.
  3. Hemilä H, Haukka J, Alho M, Vahtera J, Kivimäki M. Zinc acetate lozenges for the treatment of the common cold: a randomised controlled trial. BMJ open. 2020 Jan 1;10(1).
  4. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200313-sitrep-53-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=adb3f72_2

  5. https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/india-population/
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/10/well/live/can-i-boost-my-immune-system.html
  7. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/well/live/coronavirus-supplements-herbs-vitamins-colds-flu.html

  8. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/flu-and-colds-in-depth
  9. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/podcasts/health-essentials/how-your-immune-system-is-affected-by-diet-stress-and-exercise-with-dr-leonard-calabrese
  10. https://www.a2zmedical.com.au/replacing-food-with-supplements/
  11. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51665497
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Disclaimer: All information here, including text, images, tables, videos and any other content is for your knowledge only and we do not guarantee any specific result by following these recommendations as it may vary from person to person. The information is not a substitute for qualified medical advice from a doctor or other medical health expert.