Updated: Apr 29
Is it possible to prevent or treat the Covid-19 virus by bolstering your immune system? The answer is there is NO evidence of that, because after all, this is a new virus, and there is still so much to learn. However, it is well established that we all have an immune system, and its job is to fight for us and protect us. It is also well known that the immune system is fueled and bolstered by specific nutrients, and it is on call 24 hours a day to fight against any and all viruses, bacteria, pathogens that may come our way. So while there is zero proof that “specific nutrients have magical powers against Covid-19”, it is in fact in our best interest to have as robust and powerful of an immune system as possible, no matter what germ we are talking about.
Unfortunately, I have read numerous posts by some healthcare professionals scoffing at the idea of nutrients and their ability to improve immune health. I am totally baffled as to why they would take that kind of a stance. Nutrition is in fact paramount in having a healthy and strong immune system. We also need sleep, and exercise, and common sense like washing your hands, and not being around others if you are sick.
We are living in very weird space right now, businesses shut down, staying away from even friends and family, one lane aisles in the stores, waiting in line to get into stores, wearing masks, washing our hands all the time, and sterilizing door handles, phones, channel changers, things we have never thought to sterilize. We are going to so many extremes, so while we are implementing all of the proposed recommendations, which I think are necessary for now, I firmly believe that we need to highlight nutrition and its role in helping the immune system.
Let’s start first with understanding the immune system and how it works. . The first defense system is like having Liam Neeson unleash himself on the bad guys. This first line of defense, is called the innate immune system, and it comes out swinging, kicking and fighting everything it sees. It does not take time to take names, or identify anything, it just says, “ I will seek you, I will find you, and I will kill you, ” which happens days one through day three. There are specific names to Liam Neeson, scientifically they are called macrophages, neutrophils, as examples.
There is a second line of defense, called the adaptive immune system, where Liam Neeson contacts his friends, and they do take the time to identify the bad guys and specifically go after them. The bad guys are viruses, bacteria, or antigens, which is a pretty broad list but the adaptive immune system is very targeted. In three days, the adaptive immune system then generates antibodies.
However, there are other players too, for example there is the INTERFERON system, and the microbiome, which is full of billions of healthy bacteria, which communicate to both the adaptive and innate systems, as well as to the brain. So ultimately immune systems are quite complex, in a good way!
So below, are just a few highlights of the many functions specific nutrients have within the immune system. (Below each nutrient, I have added a link to multiple research articles, supporting the importance of each nutrient, which can all be found on the "gold standard" website, called PubMed.gov for the scoffers).
It stimulates the production of white blood cells
Stimulates phagocytosis (killing bad guys)
Increases Natural Killer cells (killing more bad guys)
Improves allergies by improving natural antihistamines
Increases the production of interferon (killing more bad guys)
It is antiviral
Vitamin D is critical for the innate immune system
Vitamin D may play a role in the prevention of infections such as viral, bacterial and fungal infections.
Vitamin D is critical for wound healing
Vitamin D receptors are found on all immune cells
Vitamin D can decrease cytokine production
Vitamin D can decrease inflammation in the lungs
A decrease in vitamin D can trigger viral activation or increase susceptibility to influenza, and severity of infection symptoms
Strengthens the immune system
Helps prevent children from getting viruses
Reduces morbidity and mortality from bacterial infections
Vitamin A is important for both the innate and adaptive immune systems
Zinc supplementation can decrease morbidity of lower respiratory tract infections
Zinc can mediate antiviral activity by decreasing replication of the virus
There are zinc receptors in the nose and throat where viruses try to attach, zinc can prohibit
High levels of zinc can lead to copper deficiencies which can lead to neuropathy
Zinc can decrease histamine production
It is the major antioxidant in the body, think the biggest house cleaner!
It helps prevent oxidation, which causes a lot of damage… think of rust on metal
There can be a huge cytokine storm with Covid-19 and the body needs antioxidants to help fight this.
Probiotics are live bacteria which when ingested in adequate amounts and cause a positive change in the microbiome and improves immunity
There is something in the gut called GALT, (gut-associated lymphoid tissue) and probiotics lead to a a positive effect on the immune system.
Some well-controlled studies in children, adults, endurance athletes, and the elderly have indicated that daily probiotic ingestion results in fewer days of respiratory illness and lower severity of infection symptoms
I could highlight more nutrients as well but this is a great start to get you thinking.
What should you do? In my opinion, eat WELL and take supplements. But the supplements have to be high quality, and I can guarantee you that if you buy your supplements at drugstores, grocery stores or warehouse stores, you are taking a very poor quality supplement that is not absorbed very well at all. If you would like specific names or help, message me and I will be happy to share some ideas.
I have evolved and transformed during my career as a dietitian. I was "trained" to tell my patients that if you eat well, you don't need a supplement. Today, I totally disagree with this for several reasons. Science has advanced, now we can test and not guess. I provide micronutrient testing for patients and I see a LOT of deficiencies.
Why do we have deficiencies? There are numerous reasons, including, poor nutrient intake, higher nutrient demands like that with athletes, specific illnesses, growth periods, poor absorption, genetics, disease conditions that require more nutrients, poor food quality, the list is expansive.
In addition to doing micronutrient testing, I also provide genetic testing, again, we can test, not guess, and some people have specific genetic SNPS (single nucleotide polymorphisms), which can then be the explanation for poor nutrient status in some areas. As an example, a more widely talked about genetic SNP is called MTHFR, there are 2 variants, MTHFR 1298 or MTHFR C677. When you see changes on these genes, there can be huge issues with folate status. With genetic testing, we can understand why someone may have deficiencies.
While many healthcare professionals have rolled their eyes at the role of nutrition and immune health, America has not. Everyone now has full and free access to the same medical information that used to only be available medical professionals with expensive textbooks. Every single person has access to www.pubmed.gov and it is curious, living in the landscape of Covid -19, many supplements I highlighted in this blog are SOLD OUT. A HIGH FIVE to America for doing your own homework, and supporting your immune system.
I strongly encourage, teach and preach that we all need to eat better, feel better, and heal better, that food is medicine, and it is powerful. But sometimes, we need extra support in the way of supplements. My personal regimen, in case you are interested, is a high quality multivitamin, a folate supplement, B12, Vitamin D, vitamin C, fish oil, probiotics, and a Vitamin K-magnesium supplement. If you want to know more, you can email me!
Eat well, be well!