Posted on Apr 24, 2020, 2 p.m.
Science indicates that supplements containing vitamins C and D along with other micronutrients can be a “safe, effective and low cost” means to fight off infections such as COVID-19 and other acute respiratory tract disease, according to Adrian Gombart, an Oregon State University researcher.
Along with his collaborators at universities around the globe Gombart says that public health officials should issue a clear set of nutritional guidelines to complement the existing advice about proper hygiene, social distancing, and handwashing to help prevent the spread of infections. Findings from this study are published in the peer reviewed journal Nutrients.
“Around the world, acute respiratory tract infections kill more than 2.5 million people every year,” Gombart said. “Meanwhile, there’s a wealth of data that shows the role that good nutrition plays in supporting the immune system. As a society we need to be doing a better job of getting that message across along with the other important, more common messages.”
People are not getting enough of these vital nutrients via diet, as such researchers are urging people to take a daily multivitamin as well as 200 mgs or more of vitamin C and 2,000 IUDs of vitamin D.
Gombart is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at OSC, as well as being a principal investigator at the Linus Pauling Institute, and a leader in the study of micronutrients and their role(s) in promoting optimal health and/or preventing and treating disease. He collaborates with other nutritional experts and scientists at the University of Southampton England, the University of Otago New Zealand, and the University Medical Center Netherlands.
Science has well established the role that nutrition plays in supporting the immune system; this panel of experts analyzed clinical trials, human studies, and research papers before reaching their conclusions.
Maintaining a poor diet can translate to less immunity, “The roles that vitamins C and D play in immunity are particularly well known,” Gombart said, explaining that vitamin C has roles in several aspects of immunity which includes the growth and function of immune cells and antibody production; and vitamin D profoundly influences the body’s responses to infections.
“The problem is that people simply aren’t eating enough of these nutrients," Gombart said. "This could destroy your resistance to infections. Consequently, we will see an increase in disease and all of the extra burdens that go along with that increase.”
Gombart points out that the disease has been unforgivingly detrimental to the older population, those with preexisting conditions, and those with darker skin, all of whom are populations that tend to have lower levels of vitamin D because they typically don’t synthesize vitamin D as efficiently as others and the stakes are huge. Annually influenza hospitalizes millions and kills several hundred thousand, thus far COVID-19 may be low incomparisson, killing tens of thousands in these first few months, but it could change rapidly as so much is still unknown about this novel virus.
According to Gombart taking preventative supplements doesn’t need to be expensive, a multivitamin and stand alone vitamin C and D supplements with the USP seal to verify dosage can be purchased for a fairly low price that adds up to only pennies per day, and be commonly found at most grocery stores as well as at places like Costco and drugstores. "It's an investment that is worthwhile," he said.
Public health measures such as practicing social distancing, masks, and hygiene are important and can be effective if implemented and followed, but there also needs to be complementary strategies such as a nutritional focus on the immune system which may help to minimize the impact of many different kinds of infections, according to Gombart.
“The present situation with COVID-19 and the number of people dying from other respiratory infections make it clear that we are not doing enough,” he said. “We strongly encourage public health officials to include nutritional strategies in their arsenal.”
"Certainly vitamins and minerals help boost the immune system, and OHA recommends a well-balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables," public health officials said in a statement. "Although some, but not all, studies have shown a benefit for supplemental zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D in fighting respiratory tract infections, there are no data on whether they can prevent COVID-19 or be used as treatment." It is worth noting that currently officials at the Oregon Health Authority say that they don’t have a position on the use of supplements to fight COVID-19.
Gombart suggests that most people are fairly healthy even when not getting enough micronutrients, and they don’t typically become aware of a deficiency until their immune system is tested. This means that making sure you are getting enough vitamin C and D is important so that the immune system is functioning at optimum levels when it encounters an infection which is a big part of disease prevention.
Even though these micronutrients are incredibly important and have great promise in helping to prevent infections, they are not a miracle cure. "You're not going to take a bunch of vitamin D and all of a sudden you're cured of something when you have an infection," Gombart said. This is not to rule out seeking professional medical attention which might include high dose intravenous vitamin C therapy, but this is not the same as what you can or are able to do at home, and is not recommended to try outside of a monitored professional clinical setting.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.