COVID-19: How to Boost Your Immune System during this Coronavirus Pandemic

Of late, there are dozens of supplements and vitamins that claim to boost your immune system and reduce your risk factors for COVID-19, but which ones actually work? Below, we look at some of the best options and what the existing research says about them.



How to help your immune system

A healthy lifestyle – not smoking, drinking little or no alcohol, sleeping well, eating a balanced diet, taking regular moderate exercise and reducing stress – helps our immune systems to be in the best shape possible to tackle invading micro-organisms.

But the first line of defence is to prevent infection from entering the body.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended basic protective measures against COVID-19 are frequent hand-washing with soap and water, or cleaning hands with an alcohol-based rub; maintaining social distancing; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth; and wear protective mask.



These simple actions are vital to slowing the spread of a new disease like the coronavirus – to which nearly everyone is susceptible, but particularly older people and those with underlying health conditions.

Foods (and the Nutrients Therein) to Boost Your Immune System

As mentioned above, the first line of defence is to prevent the virus from entering the body. If the virus manage to pass through the first line of defence; then your immune system will be the second line of defence. Third line of defence will be your doctor and the hospital.

How do you boost your immune system or at least make sure that it will function normally? We reviewed available evidence and have incorporated them into the relevant sections of this article. The study references are in the form of links and you can click on them directly if you wish to study the scientific details.

Just 10% of adults get enough fruits or vegetables, according to a study published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Scientists have long recognised that people who live in poverty and are malnourished are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Whether the increased rate of disease is caused by malnutrition's effect on the immune system, however, is not certain. There are still relatively few studies of the effects of nutrition on the immune system of humans, and even fewer studies that tie the effects of nutrition directly to the development (versus the treatment) of diseases.

Do we have large randomised controlled trials to prove that the right nutrition can combat COVID-19. No. The only real defence against COVID-19 is your own immune system, which works best when fed right. What have you got to lose?

Not just vitamins and minerals, but proteins like collagen and free radical-fighting antioxidants can be introduced to your body through the foods you eat, and play vital roles in helping to keep your body functioning at its best.

In the same way that cross training can keep your body fit and toned by working groups of different muscles, eating a variety of foods will target and work toward healing and restoring many different areas of your body, from your brain to your gut to your immune system.

Protein found in lean meats, bone broth, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds help your body repair tissue and fight infection. Studies show that amino acids in protein, such as arginine and glutamine, increase your body’s ability to heal and decrease inflammation.

Related: 

Immune System Booster Vitamins and Minerals

Eating foods chock-full of vitamins is an excellent way to strengthen your immune system in order to stay healthy during this pandemic:
  • Vitamin A boosts immunity, lowers your risk of infection and supports wound healing through collagen strength. Snack on carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, cantaloupe, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, organic pastured eggs and grass fed beef.
  • Important for collagen production, zinc is another protective antioxidant that helps create and activate your immune system’s white blood cells and is essential in the enzymatic reactions needed for wound healing. Zinc-containing foods include grass fed red meat (optimal amounts per day range from 5 to 7 ounces), pastured, organic chicken, spinach, nuts and pumpkin seeds.
  • Selenium is another powerful antioxidant for immune system protection, found in Brazil nuts and organic, grass fed beef, turkey and chicken. In addition, as important as any food you eat, drinking adequate water is vital for flushing food through your system, flushing toxins and keeping your body hydrated. Many turn to so-called “sports drinks” for hydrating while working out, but clear, pure water is the ideal beverage.

Vitamin D and COVID-19

Several publications and studies have suggested that maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D would seem potentially beneficial in fighting the COVID-19 infection.

A recent study, published in JAMA (JAMA Netw Open. 2020) found that persons who are likely to have deficient vitamin D levels at the time of COVID-19 testing were at substantially higher risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than were persons who were likely to have sufficient levels.

The same team above, has also published a preprint article: A study at the University of Chicago of over 4,000 patients that found that untreated vitamin D deficiency was associated with an increased risk for COVID-19 infection.

Another observational study involving 212 patients in Southeast Asia found that of those with a critical or severe case of COVID-19, only 4% had normal levels, while 96% of those with a mild case of COVID-19 had normal vitamin D levels.

A preprinted study published in June 2020 from Singapore (CW Tan, MedRxiv 2020), among 43 patients age 50 or older who were hospitalised with COVID-19, found that those who were started on a daily oral dose of vitamin D3 (1,000 IU), magnesium (150 mg) and vitamin B12 (500 mcg) within the first day of hospitalisation and continued up to 14 days were significantly less likely to require oxygen therapy and further intensive care.

According to an editorial review (Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2020) published in June 2020 by Irish researchers, people with vitamin D deficiency appear to be far more prone to severe COVID-19 infections.

The epidemiology of COVID-19 provides evidence that vitamin D might be helpful in reducing risk associated with COVID-19 deaths. A May 6, 2020, report published in Aging Clinical and Experimental Research (its prepublication featured in the Daily Mail) found that countries with lower vitamin D levels also have higher mortality rates from COVID-19.

Another May 6, 2020 report (Nutrients. 2020) in the journal Nutrients pointed out that vitamin D concentrations are lower in patients with positive PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for SARS-CoV-2. As noted in this report, which retrospectively investigated the vitamin D levels obtained from a cohort of patients in Switzerland.

The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) published in April 2020, suggested that vitamin D deficiency could have serious implications for COVID-19. Results from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), showed that vitamin D plays a critical role in preventing respiratory infections, reducing antibiotic use, and boosting the immune system response to infections.

Another study, published in the journal Nutrients (April 2, 2020), carries the telling title, "Evidence That Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Risk of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections and Death."

Mark Alipio with GrassrootsHealth conducted a retrospective multicenter study involving 212 patients in Southeast Asia who had COVID-19. He too found a strong correlation between vitamin D levels and disease severity. Those with the mildest disease had the highest vitamin D levels, and vice versa.

A preprinted study published in May 2020, looked at Vitamin D levels and inflammatory markers in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Germany, South Korea (S. Korea), China (Hubei), Switzerland, Iran, UK, US, France, Spain, Italy (Daneshkhah, MedRxiv 2020). Patients with the lowest Vitamin D levels were about 15% more likely to get severe COVID-19 and cytokine storm. Vitamin D3 plays a role in inhibiting the cytokine storm that causes viral infections to become lethal.

In a May 18, 2020, letter to the Federal Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel; Bernd Glauner and Lorenz Borsche highlight these and other studies and ask whether a nationwide supply of vitamin D has been considered in Germany.

While large controlled studies demonstrating vitamin D's effectiveness in COVID-19 are still lacking, there are many such studies underway. You can review the status of these trials on clinicaltrials.gov. As of September 2020, more than 20 studies have been launched to investigate the benefits of vitamin D against COVID-19.

As for the dosage, anywhere between 1,000 and 4,000 IU of supplemental vitamin D per day is sufficient for most people, though those with more serious deficiencies often require much higher doses (PubMed).

Do take note that you can also get good amounts of vitamins C and D, zinc, and other essential vitamins and minerals from a basic multivitamin.

Buy Online Malaysia: You can purchase Vitamin D as a dietary supplement online and from local health stores i.e. Guardian and Watson.


Vitamin C and COVID-19

Most people turn to vitamin C after they've caught a cold. That’s because it helps build up your immune system. Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells. These are key to fighting infections. Some of the most vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, from tangerines to limes, along with leafy greens, bell peppers and broccoli. Berries are another great source, and they all provide this and other potent antioxidants, which support your immune response and help to rebuild collagen. Because your body doesn't produce or store it, you need daily vitamin C for continued health. Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C.

Vitamin C appears to be able to both prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections by enhancing various immune cell functions. Prophylactic prevention of infection requires dietary vitamin C intakes that provide at least adequate, if not saturating plasma levels (i.e., 100–200 mg/day), which optimize cell and tissue levels. In contrast, treatment of established infections requires significantly higher (gram) doses of the vitamin to compensate for the increased metabolic demand. (PubMed).

A large review of 29 studies in 11,306 people demonstrated that regularly supplementing with vitamin C at an average dose of 1–2 grams per day reduced the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children (PubMed).

Interestingly, the review also demonstrated that regularly taking vitamin C supplements reduced common cold occurrence in individuals under high physical stress, including marathon runners and soldiers, by up to 50% (PubMedPubMed).

Additionally, high dose intravenous vitamin C treatment has been shown to significantly improve symptoms in people with severe infections, including sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) resulting from viral infections (PubMedPubMed).

Vitamin C Put to the Test Against Coronavirus

While large controlled studies demonstrating vitamin C's effectiveness in COVID-19 are still lacking, there are many such studies underway. You can review the status of these trials on clinicaltrials.gov. As of July 2020, more than 25 studies have been launched to investigate the benefits of vitamin C against COVID-19.

Word of Caution about Vitamin C Supplements

Every nutrient needs certain synergistic nutrients, and if you are already low in those synergistic nutrients, taking more of one thing will only further deplete the existing deficient levels, worsening any problems relating to that nutrient’s metabolism.

For example, taking large doses of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) on a regular basis lowers your level of copper, so if you are already deficient in copper and take high doses of vitamin C, you can compromise your immune system.

So, whereas temporarily taking megadoses of vitamin C supplements to combat a case of the cold or flu is likely not going to cause a problem. For long-term, daily use, your best bet is to eat a diet that is full of high quality organic vegetables and fruits that are minimally processed. Not only will you get vitamin C, but you will get all the other accessory nutrients and micronutrients that are needed to optimize it.

Related: 10 Best Vitamin C Supplements in Malaysia


Immune-Strengthening Vitamins: ‘B’ Is for Boost

B vitamins may constitute a long list, but each one is important for different reasons. Other “B’s” for boosting your immunity are especially effective when you combine the foods containing them so they can all work together for maximum effect. These include vitamin B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid) and B7 (biotin).

B12, also known as cobalamin, is a powerful cold- and flu-fighting nutrient in your system, as is vitamin B6, another important, germ-combating vitamin that naturally benefits and strengthens your immune system and even protects against the damaging effects of air pollution.

Vitamin B9 and folic acid help repair tissues and aid in cell metabolism and immune support. They’re found in dark leafy greens, wild-caught, cold water fish like herring, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and wild-caught Alaskan salmon, and pastured, organic chicken.

You can find B-vitamin supplements on Lazada Malaysia.


Molecular Hydrogen

Molecular hydrogen has been shown to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is 'the one and only' antioxidant that can both penetrate the mitochondria and neutralize the reactive oxygen species (ROS) (Med Gas Res. 2020).

It was discovered and reported in Nature in 2007 by a team in Japan, that inhaled hydrogen gas could act as an antioxidant and protect the brain from free radicals. This sparked the interest in its potential health benefits worldwide and led to many published and on-going clinical research.

Published in 2017, a group of researchers in China suggested that hydrogen-rich solution therapy may be a safe, reliable, and effective treatment for Multiple Organ Dysfunction Syndrome (MODS) induced by influenza and other viral infectious diseases (Ref).

A review in 2019 that included 113 references, has also focused on the potential mechanisms of molecular hydrogen against sepsis to provide a theoretical basis for clinical treatment (PubMed Central).

You can purchase Izumio (hydrogen infused water) from an authorised distributor in Malaysia. For more information, please feel free to WhatsApp: +60 12-749 2112.



Zinc

Numerous studies reveal that zinc supplements may protect against respiratory tract infections like the common cold (PubMedPubMed).

Zinc has also been shown in a lab study to inhibit regular coronavirus (not the current SARS-CoV-2) in a 2010 publication.

What’s more, supplementing with zinc may be beneficial for those who are already sick.

As of June 2020, there are 15 studies that have been launched to investigate the benefits of Zinc against COVID-19. You can review the status of these trials on clinicaltrials.gov.

In a 2019 study in 64 hospitalized children with acute lower respiratory tract infections (ALRTIs), taking 30 mg of zinc per day decreased the total duration of infection and the duration of the hospital stay by an average of 2 days, compared with a placebo group (PubMed).

Supplemental zinc may also help reduce the duration of the common cold (PubMed).

Taking zinc long term is typically safe for healthy adults, as long as the daily dose is under the set upper limit of 40 mg of elemental zinc (PubMed).

Excessive doses may interfere with copper absorption, which could compromise your immune system.

Foods that are high in zinc include oysters, crab, lobster and mussels.

Related: Zinc Sulphate is part of Dr. Vladimir Zelenko anti-coronavirus experimental protocol. Please take note that the protocol is experimental and has not been 100% proven. Do discuss with your doctor before taking the medication as per the protocol. The protocol is meant for out-patient treatment and is not for prevention.

3.1 Best Zinc Supplement Malaysia

You can purchase Zinc as a dietary supplement online and from local health stores i.e. Guardian and Watsons.


Quercetin

A study published in 2020 by the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Labs used the most powerful IBM supercomputer to model which FDA approved compounds or supplements might interfere with the coronavirus binding to cells. To review, the coronavirus uses the ACE 2 (Angiotensin Converting Enzyme) receptor to enter cells. Once in a cell, the coronavirus virus empties its RNA contents and hijacks the cell to start producing more viruses. So preventing the coronavirus from binding to the ACE 2 receptor is a good thing as it means the virus can’t get into your cells. The study modeled various compounds and at number 5 on the list as those that has the potential to block the virus was Quercetin.

A 2004 study showed that Quercetin blocked the entry of another SARS coronavirus into cells. A 2012 study basically concluded the same thing (Trusted Source).

This coronavirus is called SARS-CoV-2 and is different from the others in its family. So has Quercetin been shown to do anything that prevents this novel virus from entering cells? A lab study in 2020 that has yet to be peer-reviewed demonstrated that Quercetin and other compounds showed promise in blocking the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus from entering cells.

You can purchase Quercetin as a dietary supplement online at Lazada Malaysia.


Probiotics

Probiotics can promote a healthy gut, enhance your immune system and reduce your risk of infection (PubMedPubMed).

While large controlled studies demonstrating probiotics' effectiveness in COVID-19 are still lacking, there are many such studies underway. You can review the status of these trials on clinicaltrials.gov. As of early June 2020, more than 5 studies had been launched to investigate the benefits of probiotics against COVID-19.

You can find probiotic supplements on Lazada Malaysia.


Garlic

Garlic has shown promise as a treatment for preventing colds and the flu.

Studies have shown that garlic reduces the risk of becoming sick in the first place, as well as how long you stay sick. It can also reduce the severity of symptoms (Trusted SourceTrusted Source).

One study gave 146 healthy volunteers either garlic supplements or a placebo for three months. The garlic group had a 63% lower risk of getting a cold, and their colds were also 70% shorter (Trusted Source).

Another study found that colds were on average 61% shorter for subjects who ate 2.56 grams of aged garlic extract per day, compared to a placebo group. Their colds were also less severe (Trusted Source).

Buy online: You can purchase garlic as a dietary supplement online and from local health stores i.e. Guardian and Watsons.


Curcumin

Turmeric and especially its most active compound curcumin have many scientifically-proven health benefits, such as the potential to prevent heart disease, Alzheimer's and cancer. It's a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and may also help improve symptoms of depression and arthritis.

A lab study in 2020 that has yet to be peer-reviewed, demonstrated that Curcumin and other compounds showed promise in blocking the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus from entering cells.

Other than your local health stores, you can purchase curcumin as a dietary supplement online from Amazon.


Getting Enough Sleep

Studies show that not getting the sleep you need — for most people eight hours is the minimum for functioning at your best — can compromise your health in ways you may not have considered.

Another study noted that cutting just one hour of sleep a night increases the expression of genes associated with inflammation, immune excitability, diabetes, cancer risk and stress.9 Consistently sleeping less than six hours a night increases your risk for numerous psychological and physical effects. The upshot is, lack of sleep quickly decreases your immune function, leaving your system wide-open for environmental influences, including viruses like colds and flu.


Avoid Sugar

If you were looking for a food to eat that would compromise your health in numerous ways and absolutely ruin your health, sugar in its many forms — would win the prize.

To keep your immune system functioning at its best, one of the most effective strategies is to avoid sugar, pure and simple.


Alert

Recent concerns that common antihypertensive drugs may have a negative effect in COVID-19 patients are not supported by solid evidence, report scientists in a new review published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Evidence suggests that ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers may improve outcome in COVID-19 hypertensive patients.

If you have high blood pressure, do make sure that your blood pressure is well controlled, as the fever will likely to increase your blood pressure, raising your probability of getting a heart attack or a stroke.

Be safe and stay at home!

Disclaimer: All information presented is not intended to replace the guidance from your healthcare practitioner.

References:

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