COVID-19—also known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2—is what researchers refer to as a “novel coronavirus.” Although other coronaviruses have spread previously (most notably during the 2003 SARS outbreak), this one is new and, as such, hasn’t been studied in the past. While researchers around the globe have devoted countless hours to the study of this virus, there remains a great deal we don’t know.
For that reason, at the time of this release, there are currently no FDA-approved drugs designed to treat and prevent COVID-19. While a vaccine is in the works, some estimates predict that it will not become widely available for another 18 months. However, that doesn’t mean you’re on your own when it comes to doing what you can to boost your immune system and stay healthy.
Boosting Your Immune System to Stay Healthy During the Pandemic
With COVID-19 cases still on the upswing in many areas of the world—including most of the US—now is an ideal time to take steps to build a routine that will keep you healthy. As always, an exercise regimen and eating a healthy diet rich in the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to ward off disease are critical. However, there’s one piece of maintaining your body’s health you might be missing—the addition of a thoughtful supplements routine to help boost your immune system.
Why take supplements? While you should ideally get the full breadth of your nutrients from a healthy diet, many people struggle to do so—especially during a pandemic when trekking to the market for fresh produce a few times a week may not be feasible. Also, some nutrients are just plain difficult to access even if you do eat a varied, nutritious diet; some aren’t readily available when consumed in produce, meats, and fish, and others do best when paired with other vitamins and minerals.
Can Supplements Help Fight COVID-19?
Supplements can help you address nutrient insufficiencies or deficiencies in your diet—but can they help you fight COVID-19? While there hasn’t been specifically-targeted research to determine which—if any—nutrients should be FDA-approved to ward off the virus, supplements are an ideal way to keep your body and your immune system functioning at optimal levels. As a result, many physicians and other health and wellness experts recommend beginning a simple supplement routine to ensure your body has the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.
While COVID-19 shares some traits with other viruses, such as previous coronaviruses like SARS and other respiratory infections like influenza, it does not behave in the same ways as those viruses. Still, it is possible to take cues from flu prevention routines and the precautions we take during cold seasons when determining which supplements might be helpful to strengthen the immune system against this new virus. Just keep in mind that very few have been studied in conjunction with COVID-19.
Top Seven Supplements We’re Taking During COVID-19
The supplements you take during the COVID-19 pandemic may not be specifically developed to ward off the coronavirus. Still, research has shown that they all play an important role in boosting the immune system, preventing respiratory damage, strengthening the body against viral infections, reducing inflammation—or all of the above.
Here are the top seven supplements we’re taking right now to boost our immune systems:
#1 – Vitamin C
Vitamin C (1,000 mg). When taken in doses of 1,000 mg per day, vitamin C promotes mitochondrial health—vital for cell metabolism and other cell functions. Also, vitamin C is one of the most popular immune-boosting supplements available, and for a good reason—it supports immune cell production and proliferation and contributes to their functionality. Finally, vitamin C is a natural antioxidant that reduces your body’s production of the reactive oxygen species that cause inflammation. This systemic response can lead to sepsis and premature cell death.
#2 – Glutathione or N-Acetyl Cysteine
Glutathione or N-Acetyl Cysteine (500-1,000 mg). Known as the most potent antioxidant in the body, glutathione offers protections most others cannot match; like vitamin C, Glutathione aids in mitochondria health—in this case, by preventing damage from free radicals and other toxins. Also, glutathione helps the body prevent inflammation. Meanwhile, N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) has its antioxidative properties and specifically targets respiratory cells—all while boosting your body’s glutathione levels.
#3 – Vitamin D
Vitamin D (2,000-5,000 mg). When taken regularly, vitamin D helps prevent the production of excessive inflammatory cytokines and amplifies the pathogen-fighting abilities of important white blood cells that provide your immune response. Research also suggests that vitamin D helps stimulate peptides that reside in your respiratory tract and help protect your lungs against infection. Vitamin D is notoriously hard to get adequate levels of, even with a healthy diet, so supplementation is key.
#4 – Zinc
Zinc (50 mg). Zinc is perhaps one of the best supplements to boost your immune system, as it helps your body moderate the production of inflammatory cytokines and plays a vital part in your body’s immune response to pathogens. Also, zinc has been shown to specifically address respiratory tract infections, shortening their duration by an average of two days. Finally, zinc has numerous other benefits, including quicker healing and improved cognitive function.
#5 – Quercetin
Quercetin (250-500 mg). One of the best supplements 2020 has to offer in the fight against COVID-19, quercetin acts as an antiviral, an anti-inflammatory agent, and an antioxidant all in one. As a polyphenol derived from leafy green plants like green tea and broccoli, its potential as an inhibitor for COVID-19 and other viruses has been the subject of much research. Thus far, quercetin has shown promise in promoting and enhancing the inflammation response to viruses like COVID-19.
#6 – Melatonin
Melatonin (0.5-1 mg). Perhaps best known for enhancing the body’s natural sleep cycle, melatonin also protects against a phenomenon known as a “cytokine storm.” Caused by excessive inflammation, increased oxidation, and an overzealous immune response, overly large numbers of cytokines can cause lung injury, acute respiratory distress, even death. As melatonin levels continue to decrease as the body ages, melatonin supplementation becomes increasingly important.
#7 – Immunity Multivitamins
Immunity Multivitamins. Once you’ve addressed your body’s immune response, inflammatory response, and antioxidants with supplements and the rest of the body’s nutrients with a healthy diet, chances are you’re still missing vital pieces of the puzzle. Supplementing your intake with a daily multivitamin can be a great way to ensure you’re receiving the full spectrum of nutrients necessary to stay healthy, even during a pandemic. Choose a multivitamin that includes as many micronutrients as possible to boost immune response and contribute to your overall health.
Supplements Are an Important Part of Your COVID-19 Health Regimen
While maintaining a healthy regimen of supplements for COVID-19 is a proven way to boost your immune system, address body inflammation, and access powerful antioxidants, supplements should be taken in conjunction with other efforts. For example, although supplements are a simple means of filling in the gaps in your diet, make an effort to improve the way you eat as well. Adding a wider variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, fish, poultry, and meats will give you the best chance possible at optimal immune health.
Also, make an effort to keep your body as healthy as possible by implementing proper health and fitness routines. Try to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate activity per day, geared toward strengthening your muscles and exercising your cardiovascular system. Don’t overlook your mental health—spend time each day focusing on your mental well-being as well as your physical health. Finally, utilizing proper handwashing procedures, practicing social distancing, and wearing a face mask while in public can help prevent COVID-19 in the first place.
Choose the Right Supplements for You
You should always consult your doctor before starting any new diet plan or deciding which supplements you need. Everyone is different and we all have different dietary needs. What works for someone else might not work for you.
Here is a shortlist of things you should consider when selecting your supplements:
- Consider Your Age – Vitamins and supplements vary depending on who they are made for. For example, a senior might need a diet and supplements with more calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, potassium and fiber. Whereas all a child might need is a balanced diet and a gummy vitamin.
- Consider Your Gender – Like age, gender can also help you determine what vitamins might be right for you. Pregnant women, for example, take prenatal vitamins which are full of the minerals required for the development of their baby. These same vitamins won’t be as useful for men.
- Consider Your Diet – Do you keep track of what your eating on a day to day basis? Often times we don’t eat enough fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods that contain the vitamins we need for proper nutrition. You can start tracking your food and drink intake on an average day to get an idea of what you’re likely not getting enough of.
After many years of working in the health care and sports nutrition arenas I have developed my Dietary Rehabilitation program. My nutrition program does exactly what its title states; it rehabilitates you from a lifetime of living in the modern food system. You can learn more about my Nutrition Counseling Programs here or by contacting me here.
Chief Operating Officer, The Compounding Pharmacy of America
Matthew Poteet, Pharm.D. graduated with Honors from Lee University with a Bachelors of Science in Biological Science. After his undergraduate training, he completed the Doctor of Pharmacy program at Mercer University Southern School of Pharmacy, graduating in 2004. Dr. Poteet has spent much of his pharmacy career on staff at two of the most prestigious academic teaching hospitals in the Southeast; Emory University in Atlanta and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. At these institutions he received extensive experience and training in sterile products compounding.
He returned home to East Tennessee in 2010, where he has held the position of Pharmacy Director at two sterile products pharmacies in Knoxville. Matthew lives in Knoxville with his wife, Chris. Dr. Poteet is Tennessee’s first Board Certified Anti-Aging Pharmacist by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.