Dietary supplements during the Covid-19 pandemic: survey from 445 850 Covid-19 Symptom Study app
Updated: Jan 18
With the pandemic still haunting each corner of the world, consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different – especially with headlines that shout “This supplement could save you from coronavirus.”
Whether over-the-counter supplements can actually prevent, or even treat, Covid-19, is not clear. As the disease is so new, researchers haven’t had enough time to conduct large experiments to provide the best answers. Some studies have looked at outcomes of patients who routinely take certain supplements – and found some promising hints.
By using the data from Covid-19 Symptom study app, the researchers have analysed on the relationship between individuals taking dietary supplements and the risk of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 during the first wave of the pandemic. The study involved participants from UK, with the age ranging from 16 – 90 years old, where they self-report their regular dietary supplement usage and outcome of Covid-19 test. 47% self reported using supplements regularly since the beginning of the pandemic, while the rest were not taking any supplement. The study has found that users regularly supplementing their diet with multivitamins had a lower risk of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 by 13%, Vitamin D had a lower risk by 9%, with probiotics had a lower risk by 14% and with Omega-3 fatty acids had a lower risk by 12%. The researchers also found that the effect of supplement use is independent from the effect of diet quality. Another interesting finding from the study is that there is a consistent protective effect present only in females, but not males. This probably related with the findings that females have a more robust immune response than men, as well as a more resilient immune system. The polling also reveals that a greater percentage of females versus males are more health conscious for themselves or their family and therefore staying home more often and cancelling plans than males. Females who purchase vitamins are also found to have greater use of wearing face masks and hand-washing.
Curious what are the health supplements that the users are consuming? Here’s the answer!
1. Vitamin D
It’s no surprise that this health supplement was selected by the consumers as Vitamin D is well know for its potential antimicrobial role in infections dates back almost a century. Vitamin D can influence the function of immune cells, such as antigen-presenting cells, T cells and B cells that is important to protect your body and fight against invaders. Number of studies have found a link between vitamin D deficiency and risk of severe Covid-19. Besides that, vitamin D was also found to reduce the risk of respiratory infections around 11%.
Multivitamin supplements as suggested by the name, include multiple vitamins and multiple minerals including trace elements, which consists of antioxidant properties and roles in supporting the immune system. Specific micronutrient deficiencies, including zinc, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E, have been shown to be detrimental during viral infections. In the study, the researchers have found that multivitamin supplements have similar protective effect to vitamin D, which is a 13% reduction in risk of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids plays a role on the behaviour of immune cells in our body. Omega-3 fatty acids are demonstrated to be anti-inflammatory and can be converted to proresolving mediators, which helps to return the inflamed tissues to homeostasis when the inflammatory response is over. This is essential to avoid cytokine storm, causing the immune system to break down like in the cases of Covid-19 patients. The study has found that omega-3 fatty acids consumers have a 12% reduction in risk of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2.
Probiotics modify the host’s gut microbiota and may generate antiviral metabolites, and thus interact with the host’s gut associated immune system. This can result in improved immunity, including enhanced responses to the seasonal influenza vaccine. Some studies have support gut-lung axis, where the immune effects of microbiota at the gut level can be transferred to the lung, and thus reduce risk and severity of respiratory tract infections. There was a 14% reduction in risk of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 for those people taking probiotic supplements.
How about Zinc, Vitamin C?
Both Zinc and vitamin C have been strongly suggested to support the immune system and prevent respiratory infections. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that’s important for a healthy immune system and preventing inflammation. Human studies have found that people taking vitamin C has a lower incidence of pneumonia, suggesting vitamin C can prevent the susceptibility to lower respiratory tract infections. On the other hand, zinc plays a supportive role in immune system which helps with cell division and growth.
As a nutshell, taking dietary supplements such as multivitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D or probiotics have a slightly lower risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, as well as supporting overall health and wellness.
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