Dietary Supplements and COVID-19 Part 2
Are supplements effective in helping fight COVID-19?
Spoiler: The jury is out, for now.
The use of vitamins and supplements has a well-established history and is becoming more important as we seek to maintain and upgrade our health and wellness. Hectic personal and work lifestyles, gravitation toward convenience items, and the ever-decreasing nutrient contents of food continue to play a factor in more of us becoming deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. This is particularly true for those on restricted diets, mature adults, and those with severe illnesses or compromised immune systems.
SARS-CoV-2 virus (Novel Coronavirus), the causative agent for COVID-19 was first discovered in Dec 2019. A growing body of scientific research is occurring, but at this early stage, it is limited. Researchers have relied on analysis of past data, so-called meta analysis – a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies. Some of them have reviewed patient outcomes who routinely take certain supplements, and found some intriguing results.
Here’s the summary:
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid and ascorbate, is a vitamin found in various foods and available as a dietary supplement. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient involved in the repair of tissue and the enzymatic production of certain neurotransmitters. It is a strong antioxidant and antiinflammatory agent, supporting a healthy immune system.
Data on the utility of Vitamin C in preventing or treating colds have yielded conflicting results. Some studies show it has a positive role, while others show no effect. For example, a review published in February 2020 in the Journal of Medical Virology, found a lower incidence of pneumonia among people taking vitamin C. However, an earlier meta analysis of nearly 30 studies failed to find a correlation between Vitamin C supplementation and cold prevention. The authors did note though, “it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial.”
Many current coronavirus studies will examine whether vitamin C may help with symptoms or survival.
Vitamin D (also referred to as “calciferol”) is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in a few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. It is also produced endogenously when ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D is a nutrient found in some foods that is needed for health and to maintain strong bones. It does so by helping the body absorb calcium (one of bone’s main building blocks) from food and supplements. Vitamin D is important to the body in many other ways as well. Muscles need it to move, for example, nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and every body part, and the immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis.
Many studies are now testing vitamin D supplementation for prevention and treatment, including a large one led by a leading expert on vitamin D who is an epidemiologist and preventive medicine physician at Harvard Medical School. That study will analyze if vitamin D can affect the course of a COVID-19 infection. The goal is to determine whether newly diagnosed people given high doses of vitamin D (3,200 IU daily) are less likely than people given a placebo to experience severe symptoms and need hospitalization.
Zinc is a nutrient that people need to stay healthy. It is found in cells throughout the body. It helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. The body also needs zinc to make proteins and DNA, the genetic material in all cells.
In July 2020, researchers from Aachen University (Germany) published a paper in Frontiers of Immunology that current evidence “strongly suggests great benefits of zinc supplementation” based on a review of similar infections including SARS, another disease caused by a coronavirus. For example, studies suggest that giving zinc reduces the risk of death from a pneumonia infection. The researchers cite evidence that zinc might help prevent the virus from entering the body and help slow the virus’s replication after entering the body. However, a cardiologist and her team at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation published a review in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine titled “What is the role of supplementation with ascorbic acid, zinc, vitamin D, or N-acetylcysteine for prevention or treatment of COVID-19 “. She commented that zinc could possibly decrease the duration of infection but not the severity of symptoms.