We’re officially into our second week of lockdown. And news of the global COVID-19 pandemic is showing no sign of slowing down. As COVID-19 takes its hold across the globe, many will be wondering what they can do to support their health. While also keeping up with the government’s latest guidance on the pandemic.
In a recent tweet Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised, amongst other measures, that the public should be ‘eat[ing] a healthy & nutritious diet which helps your immune system to function properly’.
1. Eat a healthy & nutritious diet, which helps your immune system to function properly.
2. Limit your alcohol consumption & avoid sugary drinks.
3. Don’t smoke. Smoking can increase your risk of developing severe disease if you become infected with #COVID19. #HealthyAtHome
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) March 20, 2020
The statement might also explain why, in SA’s strict lockdown protocol, the sale of alcohol and cigarettes has been banned.
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, what does this mean for us?
Within the above broad statement many have been questioning if there are specific changes to their diet they can make. Ideas include taking specific supplements such as vitamin D – which can help protect them in some way from COVID-19.
In response to the above, the Association of UK Dieticians (BDA) had the following to say…
“Simply put, you cannot ‘boost’ your immune system through diet, and no specific food or supplement will prevent you catching COVID-19.”
They go on to say that, “good hygiene practice remains the best means of avoiding infection.”
However, the UK-based organisation does acknowledge that there are a number of nutrients that can support the normal function of the immune system. These include vitamin D. They said they would, “encourage maintaining a healthy balanced diet in order to support immune function (include copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D).”
Vitamin D and the immune system
Neurosurgeon and medical researcher, Constantin Karuzin, expanded on vitamin D’s role in the immune system. He said, “Among its many other functions, vitamin D also enhances immunity, triggering in the body the synthesis (or fusion) of its own antimicrobial peptides (cathelicidin and defensin). Both of which play an important role in defending the body from foreign invaders.
“Vitamin D is also involved in the activation of T cells in the body, which play a key role in immune response. Therefore, it is important to ensure you have adequate levels of this vitamin to help strengthen immunity and prevent viral diseases.”
ALSO SEE: 9 Best Immune System Boosters
Should I take a vitamin D supplement during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Experts say that, with weather still relatively warm, we should be topping up our vitamin D levels by spending time outside. This means going out onto your balcony or into the garden.
However, some of us are in a situation where we’re self-isolating and not able to get outside. Then experts recommend taking a daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement (for adults and children over the age of one). This is in order to “ensure a healthy vitamin D status”.
In addition to the above, it’s worth remembering that there are a number of vitamin-D rich foods we can incorporate into our diet. Check out the below:
- Red meat
- Egg yolks
- Oily fish – such as herring, mackerel, salmon and sardines
- Fortified foods such as some breakfast cereals
What about the link between vitamin D and warding off respiratory tract infections (RTIs)?
RTIs can affect the sinuses, throat, airways or lungs. COVID-19 has been associated with mild to moderate respiratory illness for most people. Though, those in more vulnerable groups such as those with pre-existing health conditions are more likely to develop serious illness, including serious respiratory illness.
Links have been made between vitamin D and RTIs. But, to date, a concrete link between vitamin D and COVID-19 hasn’t been made.
On the former, nutrition scientist Helena Gibson-Moore, had this to say…
“Observational studies suggest an association between low vitamin D status and the increased likelihood of developing acute RTIs, including colds and flu. However, systematic reviews of randomised controlled trials (RCTs, the gold standard of studies) with vitamin D supplementation have had mixed results, with some suggesting reduced risk and others showing no effect.
“An in depth review by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (the independent body that advises the UK government on matters relating to diet, nutrition and health) on vitamin D and health in 2016 found there was insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions and did not support recommending vitamin D supplementation to reduce the risk of RTIs.”
So, what’s the conclusion?
Yes, we do all need adequate levels of vitamin D to support our diet. But there have been no concrete links made between vitamin D and fighting off COVID-19.