Typically, in any viral infection, the body’s defense mechanism is to produce white blood cells (WBCs) to fight against the infection.
The Coronavirus outbreak has seen a huge spike in people buying vitamin supplements, with Vitamin C and Zinc emerging two of the top supplements in demand.
Zinc and Vitamin C reduces the level of chemicals called cytokines that are harmful to the body and are produced in the body during infections. Zinc helps increase the production of these infection-fighting WBCs and T cells.
Vitamin C, while providing overall immunity, is the most effective against respiratory based illnesses. Lack of Vitamin C is also the most common nutritional deficiency.
“It has been seen that older people are more at risk from the Coronavirus. Ensuring adequate intake of vitamin C via supplements, especially among elderly or individuals with risk factors owing to insufficient vitamin C, is important for the immune system to function properly and resist infections. With age, the body loses its strength to fight viruses, and when combined with existing medical conditions, it places elderly people at risk. But immunity is important at all ages and it can be increased at any stage by keeping oneself fit,” says Dr Karthik Anantharaman, Director e-pharmacy, Medlife.
“There have been reports of people believing in Vitamin C to be a cure for Coronavirus, which is certainly not true. While Vitamin C helps boost immunity, it is basic hygiene, good food habits and physical activities that help build immunity, rather than just the supplements. Pre-existing medical conditions like uncontrolled diabetes, uncontrolled High BP, uncontrolled cholesterol, etc too result in low immunity and these supplements should be seen as agents that help the body withstand or fight infections and not Coronavirus itself,” notes Dr Anantharaman.
The natural sources of Zinc are legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans along with seeds, nuts, and whole grains. Citrus fruits like orange, kiwi, lemon, guava and grapefruit are high in Vitamin C, along with vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, capsicums and Brussel sprouts.
The over-the-counter zinc supplements are available as Zinc acetate and Zinc gluconate, with the former being more readily available and accessible. The quantity of Zinc needed by the human body to achieve optimal immunity is between 8 -11 mg and for Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) it is 500 mg. These two immunity supplements are available individually for consumption but there are supplements available that combine these two into one, which can also be considered by people, adds Dr Anantharaman.
Traditionally, natural foods are the best source of vitamins and nutrients, it is advisable to combine these natural foods along with supplements. But in case of unavailability or other reasons, supplements are quite effective and it is critical to combine them with physical activities and exercises. Supplements, apart from giving the desired immunity, come with the benefit of reducing risk of heart diseases, due to certain other important components present in them.