Can food or supplements fend off COVID-19? Don’t buy the hype.

Can food or supplements fend off COVID-19? Don’t buy the hype.

Supplements, vitamins, and other alleged dietary do-gooders have long been hailed as pill-sized silver bullets in the fight for better health – no more so than now during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interest in ways to boost your body’s immune system spiked in 2020, and sales for supplements that claim to support immunity increased 50% compared to the same timeframe in 2019.

However, Heather Klug, a registered dietitian at the Karen Yontz Center at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, says now is not the time to buy the hype.

“I’d love to be able to tell people to just take vitamin such and such to prevent them from getting COVID-19 or kill off the virus,” Klug says. “We all want this coronavirus to just go away, so I get the appeal. Sadly, no supplement or single nutrient has been shown to prevent against COVID-19 specifically or to fight the virus.”

Moreover, much of the work these boosters claim to do for COVID – or any number of other health issues – don’t really work the way their bottles may tell you they do.

“Our immune system works in very specific ways. It has many moving parts, but always strives to maintain balance,” said Klug. “If there’s a rise in one population of cells, then another population of cells are suppressed to keep everything in balance.”

Even if certain foods or nutrients were able to increase or decrease certain biomarkers or cells, they still wouldn’t prevent an infection like COVID-19 from occurring in the first place. For example, a huge dose of Vitamin C won’t supercharge your body to prevent you from getting that pesky cold going around the office.

However, there is a morsel of truth – healthy eating is many people’s best bet for maintaining a healthy immune system.

Global COVID-19 data shows that the people who fare worse and have the highest risk of mortality tend to have conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity – all things a better diet and increased physical activity can help. By following a general plan like the Mediterranean Diet or DASH Eating plan emphasizing a wide variety of healthy foods, you can ensure you get all the nutrients your body needs.

“Eating healthy day-to-day provides your body with the nutrients it needs to function at its best and put yourself in the best position to deal with a viral infection,” said Klug. “While healthy eating doesn’t turn your immune system into a Navy Seal team of virus fighters, it’s still very helpful to eat healthy, especially right now during the pandemic.”

Check out our COVID-19 Info Center to learn more about the virus.

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  1. I’m disappointed in the title of this article. Strengthening the body with nutrition, exercise and supplementation is never “hype”. While the article goes on to explain the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for the immune system, it makes it confusing by calling it “hype” in the title. Give the human body more of what it needs and less of what it doesn’t need and it can do amazing things. That’s the message we should be promoting. If it’s not Covid-19, it’s going to be the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. We must turn the health of our country around proactively so we can better fight viruses like this going forward. The United States was hit harder than many other countries because we’re unhealthy to begin with. That has to change and it begins with promoting the concepts of lifestyle medicine (nutrition, exercise, supplementation, etc.).

    • Mary Susan Yank March 15, 2021 at 1:34 pm · Reply

      I couldn’t agree more with the above writer. Access to healthy food, access to information about how to stay healthy as well as universal access to quality health care should be available in this country to everyone. But food deserts, lack of insurance, lack of affordable and local health care and continued different treatment based on race and socio-economic background pervade our health care system. These are indeed things that should be “hyped”.

    • I am disappointed as well. Health care is sooo far behind as far as nutrition is concerned. I have completely turned my health around as well as members of my family by diet and supplementation. Not a matter of taking a pill, but a holistic approach including diet, exercise, getting proper amount of rest, nutrition, meditation, … None of us get the “common cold” going around. For instance, we know vitamin D deficiency is a huge risk as to whether a person becomes ill in so many ways, including COVID19. And there is so much more such as the importance of vitamin K, C, … Why is that not the headline? Why aren’t we empowering the people with these practices? There is way more than a morsel of truth diet preventing viral infections as well as many health conditions…

  2. Mary Susan and MJ well said!!!!! Until we shift our mentality to TRUE WELLNESS we will continue to operate in a sick care model in this country. The change has to begin with each one of us if we want to see change. The system won’t fix itself as there’s no incentive to do so. More healthcare workers are beginning to realize this. We are the change that is so desperately needed. I stick by what I said in my earlier post in March and I choose to be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.

  3. I agree with the article. A single nutrient supplement isn’t going to improve the risk of severe disease of covid-19. First of all, see the healthcare provider, control the medical risks as much as possible. If hypertension, get it controlled; if blood sugar, control that within the goal range, etc. Then, focus on a whole body-mind-wellness approach incorporating healthy whole plant foods, movement, mindfulness, sleep and stress management. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine has several handouts on how to do this in fact they have a covid-19 resource page. I hope all will take some time to download the sheets, and also to consult a physician specialized in lifestyle medicine to develop a comprehensive wellness plan that will not only protect from covid-19, but also the so-called noncommunicable diseases that kill 1,700,000 Americans each and every year.

About the Author

Matt Queen
Matt Queen

Matt Queen, health enews contributor, is a communication coordinator at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee. He is a former TV sports anchor and journalist with extensive public relations experience across the health care spectrum. Outside of work, Matt enjoys watching sports (of course), cooking, gardening, golfing and spending time with his wife and two young children.