The rapidly spreading coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is taking a harsh toll on immunocompromised individuals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), factors linked to immunity like age and underlying conditions determine the risk of infection. Based on available information, it appears that COVID-19 can be fatal to individuals aged 65 and older, along with individuals who have preexisting chronic conditions including pneumonia, Type 2 diabetes and liver disease.
COVID-19 is still relatively new, so there is currently no medical breakthrough regarding treatment. Prior to the global spread of COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended several protective measures to halt the spread of the disease including personal hygiene and social distancing. But such measures can only stall the rate of transmission to a degree, not completely eradicate the virus itself.
That being said, prevention is better than cure. Despite the virus’s rapid rate of transmission, prevention and recovery are possible given a strong immune system. Ideally, a functioning immune system should be able to identify and combat disease-causing pathogens like bacteria and viruses. But poor nutrition and lifestyle can significantly impair vital immune functions.
Fortunately, micronutrients play important roles in immunity and general well-being. Although there is no one-size-fits-all cure yet for COVID-19, adequate levels of micronutrients can improve immune responses to infection and disease. The following are eight vitamins and minerals that play important roles in immunity enhancement.
Vitamin C is one of the most widely known immune-boosting micronutrients. As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects against pathogens. It also stimulates the production of antibodies and white blood cells that prevent disease. Common sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, clementines, lemons and kumquats. But it can also be found in several vegetables including broccoli, kale, spinach, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, bell peppers and cantaloupe. (Related: Chinese doctors study vitamin C for treating coronavirus infections.)
Vitamin E is also a potent antioxidant known to improve immune functions. Higher concentrations of vitamin E are found in immune cells compared to other cells in the body. Several clinical trials have provided evidence to show that vitamin E regulated the number of natural killer cells that prevent viral infections. Additionally, vitamin E deficiency is known to impair immune responses to infection, weaken muscles and increase the risk of chronic diseases. To avoid the effects of vitamin E deficiency, eat plenty of nuts and seeds like almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds and cashews.
Beta carotene is a plant compound that the body converts into vitamin A, a micronutrient that plays an important role in eye health and maintenance. But vitamin A is also known to enhance immunity by regulating antibacterial and anti-inflammatory immune responses to infectious diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, malaria and herpes. Foods that contain high amounts of vitamin A include bright vegetables like carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, squash and bell peppers.
Aside from supporting calcium absorption and bone development, vitamin D also enhances immunity by regulating the body’s antimicrobial response. Vitamin D also activates the body’s inflammatory response to infection, thus reducing the risk of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. Meanwhile, damaged immune cells have also been shown to react positively to high concentrations of vitamin D. Common food sources of vitamin D include mushrooms, eggs, raw milk, salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and whole-grain oats.
The B complex vitamin known as folate aids various body functions including immunity, metabolism and DNA synthesis. In particular, folate facilitates cell growth and development. Therefore, it can also accelerate wound healing and stimulate tissue repair. Folate is also known to increase the production of antibodies that identify disease-causing pathogens. Common sources of folate include leafy greens, beans, legumes, avocados, broccoli, asparagus, bell peppers, beets and nuts.
Iron is a fundamental component of hemoglobin, a protein molecule that transports oxygen throughout the body. But iron also boosts the immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells that combat pathogens and prevent infection. Additionally, iron can inhibit the growth of bacteria and induce cell cycle arrest and programmed cell death of cancer cells. Foods such as beef, chicken, oysters, beans, cashews, broccoli, kale and whole-grain oats contain high amounts of iron.
As an antioxidant, selenium reduces inflammation and prevents cellular damage caused by free radicals, thereby reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Selenium also has powerful antiviral effects against respiratory infections like influenza and asthma. In high concentrations, it can also inhibit the spread of cancer cells. Selenium can be found in a variety of foods including beans, nuts, legumes, fatty fish, unprocessed dairy products, fruits, plain yogurt, whole grain oats, mushrooms, seeds and barley.
Zinc has powerful antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce the risk and duration of respiratory tract infections like common colds, flu and pneumonia. High concentrations of zinc have also been shown to improve natural killer cell activity. Excellent sources of zinc include pork, beef, chicken, beans, nuts, unprocessed cheese, raw milk and plain yogurt.
A healthy immune system can reduce the risk of contracting infections like colds, flu and COVID-19. Enhance immunity by increasing the intake of essential vitamins and minerals that aid immune functions. Additionally, adopting a healthy lifestyle that involves regular exercise and proper nutrition can significantly boost the immune system.