Coronavirus ... the epidemic of this century
Coronavirus has many uncertainties, and none of us can completely eliminate our risk of contracting COVID-19. But one thing we can do is eat in the healthiest way possible.
Essential micronutrients to fight infection include vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, and the minerals iron, selenium, and zinc.
This is what we know about how these nutrients support our immune system and the foods that we can eat to obtain them.
Vitamin A maintains the structure of cells in the skin, respiratory tract, and intestine. This forms a barrier and is your body's first line of defense. If fighting infection were like a soccer game, vitamin A would be your line of attack.
We also need vitamin A to help make antibodies that neutralize infection-causing pathogens. This is like assigning more of your team to target an opposing player who has the ball, to prevent them from scoring.
Vitamin A is found in blue fish, egg yolks, cheese, tofu, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes.
In addition, vegetables contain beta carotene, which your body can convert to vitamin A. Beta carotene is found in green, leafy vegetables and yellow and orange vegetables like pumpkin and carrots.
The B vitamins, particularly B6, B9, and B12, contribute to your body's first response once it has recognized a pathogen.
They do this by influencing the production and activity of "natural killer" cells. Natural killer cells work by causing infected cells to "implode," a process called apoptosis.
In a soccer game, this role would be like security guards intercepting wayward spectators trying to run onto the field and interrupt play.
B6 is found in cereals, legumes, green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, chicken, and meat.
B9 (folate) is abundant in green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds and is added to commercial flour to make bread.
B12 (cyanocobalamin) is found in animal products, including eggs, meat, and dairy, and also in fortified soy milk (see Nutrition Facts panel).
Vitamins C and E
When your body is fighting an infection, it experiences what is called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress leads to the production of free radical They can puncture cell walls, causing content to leak into tissues and exacerbate inflammation.
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Vitamin C and Vitamin E help protect cells from oxidative stress.
So the role of vitamin C here is a bit like cleaning the soccer field after the game.
Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, lemons, limes, berries, kiwi, broccoli, tomatoes, and bell pepper.
Vitamin E is found in nuts, green leafy vegetables, and vegetable oils.
Some immune cells need vitamin D to help destroy pathogens that cause infection.
Although sun exposure allows the body to produce vitamin D, food sources including eggs, fish, and some milk and margarine brands may be fortified with vitamin D (meaning more has been added).
Most people need only a few minutes outside on most days.
People with vitamin D deficiency may need supplements. A review of 25 studies found that vitamin D supplements can help protect against acute respiratory infections, particularly among people with a deficiency.
Iron, zinc, selenium
We need iron, zinc and selenium for the growth of immune cells, among other functions.
Iron helps kill pathogens by increasing the amount of free radicals that can destroy them. It also regulates enzymatic reactions essential for immune cells to recognize and target pathogens.
Zinc helps maintain the integrity of the skin and mucous membranes. Zinc and selenium also act as antioxidants, helping to remove some of the damage caused by oxidative stress.
Iron is found in meat, poultry, and fish. Vegetarian sources include legumes, whole grains, and iron-fortified breakfast cereals.
Zinc is found in oysters and other shellfish, meat, poultry, dried beans, and nuts.
Walnuts (especially Brazil nuts), meat, cereals, and mushrooms are good dietary sources of selenium.