The world as we know it has changed due to the sudden onslaught of a viral infection, with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing economies to a standstill and keeping us in our homes for an unprecedented period. This new reality we are facing has made us more conscious of our habits, and it is crucial now more than ever to be diligent with proactive efforts on health and safety.
Diseases and viral infections may not always discriminate on who it will infect. Several public health practices to help reduce the spread of infection are important to follow. Supporting the immune system with adequate nutrition is another important and a parallel way to help reduce the risk and impact of virus infections.
In an effort to further inform the public of the benefits of nutrients, an independent review was made on the global scientific evidence regarding the roles of nutrients in support of immune response, including response against viral infections. The study was composed of a panel of experts, invited by Prof. Manfred Eggersdorfer, Ph.D, Professor for Healthy Ageing at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands. He is active as a member of the Advisory Board of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and has authored numerous publications in the fields of vitamins, innovation in nutritional ingredients, reviewer for a variety of journals and associate editor of the “International Journal of Vitamin and Nutrition Research”.
The research findings show a strong relation in the role of specific nutrients in supporting immune health in reducing the risk, duration, and severity of viral infections. The supplementation of nutrients on top of a well-balanced diet may help lower the risk of infection, and may play a role in faster recovery.
With restrictions on mobility and physical distancing slowly being eased, here are ways on how you can further support your immune system to fight against the risk of a viral infection.
Key nutrients include Vitamin A, C, D, Zinc, and Omega-3 fatty acid
The expert panel confirms that nutrients work together to support an effective immune system and reduce the risk of viral infections, including respiratory tract infections. These include the vitamins A, C, D, Zinc, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. For optimal results, it is desirable to ensure the intake of adequate amounts to help support the immune system.
Deficiencies or low status in nutrients have the potential to negatively affect the body’s immune function and may therefore decrease resistance to infections. As supported by COVID-19 data, it is the elderly that are especially vulnerable, because they have relatively weaker immune systems, may suffer from comorbidities and nutritional frailty, and therefore often do not have an inadequate intake and uptake of the essential nutrients.
Oranges, fish, and meat to keep the doctors away
While there are ways to naturally consume the necessary nutrients with a healthy and well-balanced diet, nutritional supplements are a convenient and efficient way to assure adequate intake, help eliminate gaps in nutrition, and add support to the immune system.
For a strong immune system, an intake of 200 – 500 mg/day of Vitamin C is recommended for healthy people. This can be achieved by eating three oranges or two kiwi fruits every day or by taking a supplement. Vitamin C requirements change depending on the health status of a person, and an intake of 1 – 2 g per day is helpful for people who are sick.
Vitamin D is also effective in reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections. Studies have shown that an intake of 2000 IU daily is optimal. Fatty fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. However, if it is difficult to eat 2-3 portions of fatty fish per week to achieve the recommended amount, a supplement of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) amounting to 250 mg a day would be a good alternative.
Zinc, while not stored in the body, is found in most of the meat we consume. Foods rich in Zinc are crab, beef, pork, and chicken, vegetables such as mushrooms and kale; chickpeas, lentils, and beans are also very good sources of Zinc, with the recommended intake of 8-11 μg a day.
It is good to note that while nutritional supplementation will not necessarily prevent infections or cure the infection, it may help decrease the risk of falling ill, symptoms, and the duration, plus help in facilitating recovery. Therefore, a resilient immune defense is important to help reduce the risk or manage the implications of viral infections. To learn more about the study, you may refer to the following:
Calder PC, Carr AC, Gombart AF, Eggersdorfer M. Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System Is an Important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections. Nutrients. 2020;12(4):1181. Published 2020 Apr 23. doi:10.3390/nu12041181