As the pandemic wears on, concerns have shifted from ‘hiding out’ to ‘how to thrive’ in a world of viral transmission.
Indeed, the natural history of viruses new to the human population is to hit hard at first, then taper rapidly. From there, a virus may persist at lower levels, or may continue to flare up in smaller groups, or become seasonal.
The virus encounters more and more bodies, and mutates its genetic composition as it goes, usually to less deadly forms. At the same time, human bodies learn to adapt to the new threat. The results are changes in both the human immune response and in the virus particle itself.
One favorable outcome of CoVID has been heightened awareness of the need for clean, healthy diets and lifestyles in order to boost immunity and be in optimal shape in case of infection.
More people are now paying attention to old-time sound medical advice: consume a varied diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, avoid overeating, get plenty of exercise and quit smoking.
Ideally you’d get all you need from organic foods, but since the advent of large scale intense industrial farming, the soils have been depleted of essential nutrients. Supplementation may be necessary.
There are only a handful of nutrients that are routinely measured on blood tests, so the average person has no objective measure of their nutrient status.
A few labs do offer testing of cellular nutrients – that is, the nutrient concentration within white blood cells, which is likely to be a more useful indicator than the amount of a particular vitamin circulating in the blood. In keeping with my principle of not mentioning specific companies or products, I invite you to search for labs doing “intracellular micronutrient testing” to find out more.
There have been scores of recent medical reports on a handful of supplements that may be of value in resisting or disabling coronaviruses, boosting the immune system and dampening inflammation. But first, a disclaimer for our friends at the FDA: Nothing in this blog is intended to diagnose, treat or cure illness.
Vitamin C. Thousands of studies on vitamin C have established its role in enhancing immunity by multiple different mechanisms. It is also a potent anti-inflammatory agent at the cellular level. High concentrations of C along with the cofactors necessary for the body to absorb and use the C are found in sweet red pepper, citrus fruit, cantaloupe, strawberry, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. Diarrhea is the main adverse effect of high dose vitamin C, which can be avoided by taking it in lower does throughout the day rather than a megadose all at once. See this article on preferred forms of vitamin C.
B vitamins. All of the B vitamins have roles in immunity and inflammation, but vitamins B6 and B12 are known to strongly support the immune system and work with other nutrients to modulate an overactive inflammatory response. B6 is found in fish, chicken, tofu, pork, beef, sweet potatoes, bananas, potatoes, avocados and pistachios. B12 is derived from animal products only, including crab, tuna, clam, beef and eggs.
Vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels have been associated with worse outcomes from viral infection. This is one vitamin you can measure in a routine blood test. Skin exposure to direct sunshine is the optimum way to get your vitamin D, but if you find yourself indoors a lot then supplementation may be necessary. Under-the-tongue dissolving forms are best absorbed.
Zinc. Zinc is a metallic mineral that is known to support a healthy immune response in general and to have antiviral properties in particular. Zinc is found in oyster, crab and lobster, beef, pork, dark meat chicken and in beans, cereal, pumpkin sees and cashews. High dose zinc supplementation (over 50mg per day) can cause stomach upset.
Selenium. Selenium is another metallic mineral, and is found in brazil nuts, tofu, beef, chicken, pork, tuna, oysters, shrimp and shiitake mushrooms. It modulates the immune response, but can have risks if taken for long periods at doss higher than 200mcg/day. The interactions between vitamin E and selenium may help both supplements work more efficiently.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC). NAC is a type of protein-building molecule called an amino acid, found in pork, beef, chicken, fish, lentils, oatmeal, eggs, low-fat yogurt, sunflower seeds and cheese. The body needs cysteine to make glutathione, which works in various ways to quiet excess inflammation. NAC supplements taken by mouth are generally well tolerated, but can cause stomach upset in some.
Melatonin. Melatonin can be anti inflammatory and support the immune response, but I hesitate to put melatonin on this list since I frequently see it being overused. Therefore melatonin is best obtained by eating things like tart cherries, pineapple, bananas, tomatoes and oats.
There are many more supplements that could be mentioned, but these are the most well-studied as reported in the medical literature.
Preferred supplements are whole-food sourced and organic. Supplement ingredients to avoid include fillers (like cellulose), sugars (like sorbitol, sucrose, glucose, fructose), thickeners (like carrageenan), flavors (including ‘natural’ flavors) and coloring.
So get out there and enjoy the sun, exercise, eat well, consider supplementation, and comply with legal requirements by physical distancing, not social distancing!