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.
About the Author
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.