Coping with Coronavirus: Supplements to boost your immune system

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25.03.20 at 4:59 pm

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Corona virus is coating every aspect of our collective lives, and for most of you it also means your exercise routines have probably been drastically altered. I know mine have as group rides or groups of any kind have quickly become a luxury of a bygone time here in Berlin, Germany. Some punters have even called for Strava and other social exercise apps to deactivate accounts that reveal or promote group activity. These are strange and solitary times.

While many have turned to their turbo trainers or home gyms or Youtube Yoga or sudden uncontrollable sobbing, the current UK government advice does not forbid outside exercise as long as “you stay more than two metres from others.”

For the moment, similar guidelines exist in most countries. Which is a good thing, because exercise, as most of us know, is a proven winner for both brain and body. And I think we can all agree we need that now. Keep it up folks.

corona virus cycling isolated

Level up your immunity powers

But what about your foods and your supplements, your nutritional inputs?

Whether it’s a global biowarfare conspiracy to shut down the global economy via a multilateral cabal featuring the CIA, China, the ‘Masons, BoJo, the Rothschilds, the EU Council, the Facebook Libra CryptoStarchamber, the KGB, the Clintons, The Brothers Bezos, Musk and Page, the Mormons, the GOP, David Icke, the BJP, Neville Bartos, Nickelback, the Gates, the Daintree Sasquatch Alliance, the Bushes, the NSA, Dan Brown, BoJack Horseman and Oleg Tinkov…or just a highly infectious virus only EXTREME SOCIAL DISTANCING can contain – optimising your immune system any way you can is probably a pretty good idea right now.

If the ‘expert predictions’ can be believed that 80% of some populations will ultimately catch this Coronavirus then those with elevated levels of white blood cells, T cells, B cells, lymphocytes, cytokines and other immune system soldiers should be better prepared to withstand the viral onslaught.

But let’s be clear – any food supplement that claims to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 is making a bogus claim, breaking the law and almost certainly an unscrupulous actor peddling dodgy wares to people made vulnerable by a fairly frightening global pandemic. Shame on them. If you see those kinds of claims, click elsewhere. There are better players out there; firms that let science and the law guide their business, formulations and their marketing.

As the British Nutrition Foundation notes: “No food or supplement can protect you from getting the coronavirus. Nevertheless, having a healthy diet is important in supporting our immune function and many nutrients influence the body’s ability to fight infection.”

People are seeking these foods and supplements big time. UK healthy food and food supplements retailer Holland & Barrett last week rationed immunity products like vitamin C, elderberry, echinacea and probiotics to two per head.

If you check Google Trends, the search phrase ‘immune system boosters’ has gone through the roof in the past three months. With that search phrase, you’ll get whole bunch of listicles from pretty reputable sites including the one I used to be the editor of, NutraIngredients.

Often they will focus on foods rich in various vitamins and minerals such as citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and spinach or other foodstuffs like peppers, garlic, yoghurt, nuts, tofu, kefir and other fermented foods along with ‘healthy meats’ like lean organic chicken and fish.

Thing is, nutrients such as omega-3s, vitamins A, B12, D, E and iron, zinc, selenium and magnesium have some link to immunity – it is a broad church – but here we’ll focus on those leading nutrients with robust research backing their immunity benefits in human beings.

By typing ‘nutrient x + immunity and/or immune’ into the US National Institutes of Health pretty comprehensive Pubmed research database, it was possible to locate three stand-out immunity supplements.

Corona virus supplements

Probiotics (5013 PubMed results)

Probiotics like the many strains belonging to the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genuses are massively backed in the scientific literature to boost the immune system, most notably via modulation and improvement of the ever-fragile gut microbiome. Since being isolated and studied by Japanese scientists in the 1930s and first commercialised by probiotic specialist Yakult in the same country in the 1950s, many probiotic strains have featured in yoghurts and dairy drinks and other formats around the world for decades.

They have become popular as food supplements and sell billions of pounds worth every year despite the conservative EU science agency – the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) – rejecting hundreds of probiotic (and prebiotic) health claims across the 27-nation European Union bloc for what it deems to be a lack of credible science. Brexit could yet free up claim-making around probiotics in the UK.

While an arms race exists among some brands around how many probiotic billions (known as colony-forming units (CFUs)) can be packed into a pill, more is not always more so to speak – better is strain-specific peer-reviewed studies such as those that exist for probiotics like L. rhamnosis and B. longum.

vitamin c oranges

Vitamin C (1414 PubMed results)

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) supplementation has a long history of bodily immune system boosting, being one of the first nutrients identified and linked to it. Modern supplements offer high doses (more than 1000mg) that often far exceed RDAs, and much research backs this over lower dosages where results have been more marginal like a 2013 multiple study review that reduced cold duration in adults by 14% in adults and 8% in children. A high-dose study is underway in Wuhan, China, with participants receiving a really very massive 2x12g of vitamin C a day.

Strangely, for a nutrient that can play such a vital role in such a vital function, the body doesn’t store it very well. Evolution eh? Go figure…It is probably this fact though that explains why most human bodies respond better to vitamin C supplementation over other nutrients, even other antioxidants. Vitamin C has a role to play too in free radical removal and enzyme function that can bolster immunity.

corona virus supplement - green tea

Green tea (584 PubMed results)

Of the botanicals most commonly linked to immunity like say elderberry, echinacea or garlic or ginger extracts, the presence of the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in green tea set it a little apart. ECGC, typically destroyed in the fermentation process for black tea, survives in green tea where it boosts lymphocyte T cell production.

Aside from its obvious beginnings as a beverage, green tea has become very popular as a food supplement, where, like many isolated nutrients, recommended EGCG doses fluctuate wildly from 150mg to 2500mg+.

So there are three for you. As noted above, there are many more. If you want to go to the source yourself, many of the research papers can be found on PubMed or through a search engine and many are freely available.

Stay active and take care.

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