Key nutrients found in everyday foods could help your body fight back against Covid-19, and even enhance your response to a vaccine.
The British Nutrition Foundation held a virtual conference last week so that leading scientists could discuss the critical role of nutrition in the battle against Covid.
Emerging research on Covid-19 patients, and a wealth of existing studies relating to other viral infections, suggests key nutrients such as selenium, zinc, vitamin D and probiotics may fortify the immune system, limit the severity of coronavirus symptoms and even reduce intensive care admissions and mortality rates.
Although this nutritional data requires further research, the results so far are intriguing.
Selenium: German research suggests patients who survived Covid-19 had higher levels of selenium - a nutrient found in turkey, sardines, eggs, Brazil nuts, liver and kidney - than those who died of the virus. Research suggests selenium helps to cleverly refine your immune response.
Zinc: A Spanish study found that healthy levels of zinc - a mineral found in meat, poultry, cheese, shellfish and seeds - are linked to higher survival rates. Research suggests that zinc helps to prevent viruses from proliferating.
Vitamin D: Another paper found that 82.2 percent of hospitalised coronavirus patients were deficient in vitamin D, which we gain through exposure to the sun. So Vitamin D supplements may be necessary over winter but Prof Gleeson insists we can get most of the other immunity-optimising nutrients from our everyday diet.
Probiotics: An Italian study found that probiotics reduced the severity of Covid-19 symptoms and cut mortality rates. Probiotics are likely to play an important role because your gut is a key part of your immune system. “About 70 percent of your immune cells are located in and around the gut,” explains Prof Gleeson.
“Nutrition is very important, not for ‘resistance’ in protecting you from getting Covid-19 but rather for improving your ‘tolerance’ of it,” explains Prof Mike Gleeson, Emeritus Professor of Exercise Biochemistry at Loughborough University and author of Eat, Move, Sleep, Repeat. “Tolerance means a decreased infection burden when you get infected, so you could get less severe symptoms and recover more quickly. That’s the possible role of nutrition. We're talking about compounds which may optimise immune response or have beneficial anti-inflammatory or antioxidant actions.”
If this nutritional evidence is not compelling enough, it seems that improving your diet may even help you ahead of the imminent roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines. “We know that with vaccines like the one for the influenza virus, selenium and vitamin D are linked to stronger antibody responses to the vaccination,” explains Prof Gleeson. “So it makes sense to boost up, ready for when we all get the chance to have this vaccine.”
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