Please get the vaccine when it is your turn, then still wear a face covering, eat healthy, get outside for some activity, and stay 6 feet apart.
Q I am terrified of contracting COVID-19. A friend of mine suggested I might want to start taking a multivitamin-multimineral supplement to reduce my risk of coronavirus. Should I? CC, Mebane
A Amber Whitley, a Brody medical student, suggests the answer may be more complicated than initially meets the eye. Here is what she wants you to know.
SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus that has forever changed our way of life. Most of us will never forget March of 2020 when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. We will always remember 2020 as the year of stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, travel restrictions, isolation and uncomfortable COVID-19 nasopharyngeal swabs. It certainly changed the way we medical students received our training!
Research about SARS-CoV-2 is limited as the world is still learning about this deadly coronavirus. But more studies continue. You wonder if certain nutrients can optimize the immune system to prevent or lower the severity of a COVID-19 infection? We do not know yet with certainty. What we do know is that zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D play a role in the immune system’s response to viral infections.
Zinc is found in cells throughout the body. It helps the immune system fight off invading pathogens and plays a role in wound healing. Vitamin C is a micronutrient with antioxidant properties, it prevents damage to cells caused by free radicals. Vitamin C enhances the function of many white blood cells that protect your body against pathogens. Vitamin D is well known for its effects on bone health but also has anti-inflammatory properties and is critical for activation of the immune system defenses. A deficiency in one or more of these three elements can impair the immune system and make you more vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections.
Viral infections also increase the demand for several micronutrients including vitamins C and D and zinc, which would increase your risk for deficiencies. Adequate intakes of zinc and vitamin C and D may be one promising way to fight against COVID-19. Fortunately, clinical trials, research that studies new treatments and evaluates the effects on a participant’s health are ongoing to clarify the role these nutrients may play in COVID-19 management. In the meantime, it is reasonable to first look at your diet and determine if you are eating foods rich with vitamins C and D and zinc.
The best place to start is by talking to your doctor. Prior to your appointment, write a list of your meals over the past seven days and bring it to your appointment. After looking at your food list your doctor may order a blood test for vitamin D deficiency, suggest a supplement, or recommend a visit with a registered dietitian nutritionist to plan your meals. If you can’t get the needed nutrients from food, it isn’t very expensive to take a multivitamin-multimineral supplement. It’s easier and possibly less expensive to get those three nutrients in a multi than taking separate pills.
Taking any supplement does come with a risk, as too much of certain vitamins and minerals can be toxic. Discuss with your doctor or dietitian the right amount for you. Read the Supplement Facts label to make sure you are buying one that doesn’t exceed 100 percent of the Daily Value. If taking a pill is not right for you, consider consuming more foods rich in Vitamins D and C and zinc.
You may be wondering well what foods are these? The answer is simple: meats, dairy and nuts are your best sources of zinc. A tasty lunch of a swiss cheeseburger with a one-cup side of yogurt mixed with pumpkin seeds along with a glass of skim milk will meet your daily need for zinc. While a half cup of sweet red peppers or three quarters cup of orange juice is enough to meet your daily need for vitamin C.
Taking a 30-minute walk outside twice a week with your mask on and while maintaining social distancing will keep your vitamin D levels normal. However, if unable to get your vitamin D from the sun, eating tuna, salmon or trout, mushrooms or eggs or drinking vitamin D fortified milk, yogurt or cereal can be just as good.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take the lives of many Americans please remember a supplement is not a cure and will not alone prevent you from getting COVID-19. We must all do our due diligence to follow the 3 W’s to continue to keep ourselves and each other safe. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Wait 6 feet apart and get your vaccine when offered.
Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an affiliate professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU.Contact her at [email protected]