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Can Nutrients or Dietary Supplements Prevent COVID-19?

Sharon Palmer

With so much concern over the coronavirus pandemic, I’m getting more and more questions about food and nutritional strategies to prevent infections. While a healthy diet is essential for supporting a robust immune system, with certain nutrients playing an essential role in immune response, there are no magic bullets in the diet world which can act as a shield for protection from viruses. In fact, some purported “immune” supplements can be harmful. So, what can you do? I’m answering all of your questions on nutrients and supplements and if they can prevent COVID-19.

Can Nutrients or Dietary Supplements Prevent COVID-19?

Question:

What supplements are people using to prevent COVID-19?

Sharon’s Answer:

People are interested in supplements purported for immune health as a defense for COVID-19. These include vitamins C, D, and E, zinc, and supplement formulas marketed for immune health. In addition, herbal preparations like elderberry, essential oils, colloidal silver, ashwagandha, mushroom extracts, and probiotics are all popular as immune health supplements. 

Question:

Are any of these supplements harmful?

Sharon’s Answer:

Some supplements may be detrimental, such as colloidal silver, which the FDA has issued a warning about. Some overpromise benefits with very little evidence. Excessive intake of some nutrients, such as zinc, can even weaken immunity.

Question:

Is elderberry effective in preventing infections?

Sharon’s Answer:

There is weak evidence that elderberry can stimulate the immune system and inhibit viral growth, reduce symptoms and speed recovery from flu, and aid in viral infections. It is considered unsafe to consume the leaves, stems, and unripe fruit of elderberry. There is evidence that it should not be used once someone has an infection, as it increases cytokines. 

Question:

Is it a good idea to make sure you’re getting an adequate source of certain vitamins or nutrients?

Sharon’s Answer:

It is a good idea to make sure you are getting an adequate source of essential nutrients, such as vitamins C and D, zinc, and a diet rich in phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables. 

Question:

Have any supplements shown help in preventing COVID-19?

Sharon’s Answer:

Vitamin C has been shown to aid in the common cold. Vitamin D has been shown to help boost immune function, though if you have an infection discontinue it. Probiotics have been shown to modulate immune health. 

There is no magic bullet for preventing COVID-19 through diet or supplements, however you can do the most to support your immune health with a diet filled with nutrients that are functional in immune defense, such as vitamins C, D, E, and zinc. In addition, a diet rich in phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, as well as vitamin C. 

Please refer to this resource from Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine for reliable information on supplements and COVID-19. Also, check out my blog on diet and immune health.

Check out other nutrition questions I’m answering at The Plant-Powered Dietitian:

Does Roasting Veggies Ruin Nutrients?
Is “Clean Eating” a Healthy Lifestyle?
How to Prepare Dried Beans to Avoid Antinutrients

About Ask Sharon:

As part of my program “Ask Sharon”, I am answering the top question of the month submitted through my blogFacebookTwitter or Instagram to answer here. You can even win a prize! Don’t forget to submit your burning nutrition question via my blog, or other social media.

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