With the state of uncertainty that lingers in the air surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a good time to get a better handle on our health. In absence of a treatment, it is wise to make use of alternative methods to help lessen chances of contracting the infection and decreasing its severity if we, unfortunately, become infected. The Harvard School of Public Health supports depending on good quality supplements to help reduce the risk of infection. Here is a quick run-through of a few of the supplements that peer-reviewed studies deem helpful for supporting the immune system.
Vitamin D3 deficiency is common in many health conditions, including chronic illnesses, many types of cancer, autoimmune diseases, HIV, coagulopathy, advanced age and morbidity. In fact, one study showed that 84% of ICU patients with COVID had insufficient vitamin D levels. In our immune system, vitamin D helps turn on infection-fighting cells, such as monocytes, macrophages and dendritic cells, via vitamin D receptors (VDR) located on the cells. Vitamin D also induces antimicrobial peptides, defensins and cathelicidins, which decrease the rate of viral replication, increase anti-inflammatory cytokines and reduce concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which have been associated with injuring the lungs. Studies show that vitamin D’s antiviral mechanism may further be due to its ability to up-regulate peptides LL-37 and human beta defensin 2.
Clinical trials are being conducted on the use of intravenous vitamin C for supportive care for COVID-19 patients; it seems to decrease the duration of the stay in ICU and the need for mechanical ventilation. There are over 60,000 studies on vitamin C in PubMed, and its antiviral actions actually were discovered more than 80 years ago when scientists were researching poliomyelitis. Vitamin C is present within white blood cells and macrophages, supporting their proliferation and functioning, and enhances neutrophil phagocytosis. By restoring cellular antioxidants and scavenging reactive oxygen species (ROS), it can ameliorate viral-induced oxidative injury. Further, vitamin C immunomodulates by increasing alpha and beta interferons, inhibiting TNF alpha, and blocking NF kappa B, which plays a critical role in the pro-inflammatory response.
Zinc also has been used for a long time for treating colds and flus. It has been shown to decrease the rate of acute respiratory infections, shorten the duration of flu-like symptoms and improve recovery time. Its antiviral effects are due to its ability to inhibit RNA-dependent RNA polymerases and other proteins that are essential for viral replication.
Monolaurin is derived from lauric acid, which is found in coconut oil. It has a broad spectrum of activity, and studies have shown it to be effective against staph infections, E.coli, bacillus, candida and gram negative bacteria such as h. pylori. It also has demonstrated antiviral properties against influenza, pneumovirus, EBV, HSV and HIV. When it comes to viral infections, it binds to the viral envelope causing it to disintegrate, inhibits late stage viral maturation and prevents binding of the virus to the host cell. It is currently being studied in clinical trials for its anti-HIV properties.
Quercetin is a type of polyphenol known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Polyphenols regulate immunity by interfering with pro-inflammatory cytokines’ synthesis, inactivating NF kappa B, inhibiting ROS, modulating mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK) and more. Quercetin has been found to inhibit SARS proteases 3 CLpro. The International Journal of Antimicrobial Agentssuggests that quercetin yields anti-coronavirus effects from its ability to modulate unfolded protein response, which is a pathway that plays a role in the viral life cycle.
Glutathione is another nutrient commonly deficient in people with chronic illnesses. People who suffer from pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, immune disorders, neurodegenerative disorders and chronic age-related diseases tend to have low levels of glutathione. There is extensive literature on the role of glutathione in immunity. Among its many effects, glutathione plays a role in both innate and adaptive immune responses, and inhibits ROS, NF kappa B and pro-inflammatory cytokines. It maintains the active states of vitamins C and E within cells. Its role in the host defense against intracellular pathogens is essential, where it is required to maintain an adequate interferon-gamma production by dendritic cells. Supplementing with glutathione alone is not enough to replenish deficiencies, however. Adding n-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and alpha-lipoic acid will help improve levels of glutathione. NAC is also essential for an optimal functioning immune system where it suppresses NF kappa B activation, blocks TNF alpha activation and subsequent inflammatory cytokine production.
Those are just a handful of the supplements studies show to be beneficial to the immune system by providing support during inflammatory responses to infections. Additionally, there are many herbs being studied and researched in clinical trials for their roles and potential benefits in supportive care and treatments.
Consuming a diet that is nutrient-rich and high in antioxidants will help avoid deficiencies required for the immune system to function optimally. Keep in mind, during this stressful time we must also focus on our mental and spiritual well-being, for these are also vital for the immune system:
- Try to get adequate amounts of sleep. Disruptive sleep is associated with increased sympathetic nervous system activity, a disruption in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and pro-inflammatory responses, leading to an inability to fight infection, chronic illnesses, inflammation, mood disorders, and cognitive, memory and performance deficits.
- Getting regular exercise increases immune surveillance, the function of natural killer cells and CD8 T cells.
- Address any anxiety and depression that you may be experiencing. New studies are predicting that more than 70,000 people will die from the use of drugs, alcohol and suicide due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite being quarantined, many health professionals are readily available to help you in the comfort of your home and provide you with the support you need to get through this. Remember, alone we are strong, but together we are stronger.