The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread worldwide and over 62.26 million people are infected. Given the rapid spread of its pathogen, the severe coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) with acute respiratory syndrome, it is crucial to determine ways to prevent infection.
The immune system protects the host from pathogenic organisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. To deal with a wide variety of threats, the immune system has evolved into many specialized cell types that communicate with each other and work together to fight off infection.
Since the immune system is actively monitoring throughout the day, it needs adequate nutrients. Various vitamins and trace elements have been shown to reduce the risk of infection.
A researcher at the School of Human Development and Health at the University of Southampton Medical School examined the role of diet in boosting the immune system to fight COVID-19 infection.
The study published in the BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health underscores the importance of nutrition in strengthening the immune system’s ability to fight off infections.
The immune system
The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that protect the body against infection. It records every pathogen it has ever encountered so that it can be recognized and killed when it gets back into the body.
Immunological memory refers to the ability of the immune system to quickly recognize an antigen that the body has previously encountered and to trigger an appropriate immune response.
Many factors can alter the body’s immune response. Aging can be associated with a loss of immune system competence known as immunosensitivity.
Immunosensitivity is characterized by reduced immune cells, including T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, dendritic cells, neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages, and natural killer cells.
One factor associated with immunosensitivity is the reduction of immune cells from the bone marrow from which these cells originate. All of these processes that occur in old age could predispose the elderly to more severe COVID-19.
Obesity is also linked to a decreased immune response. As a rule, overweight people experience impairment in the activity of helper T lymphocytes, cytotoxic T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes and natural killer cells. They also have decreased antibody and interferon gamma (IFN-γ) production. This causes them to develop severe COVID-19.
Obese people may respond less well to vaccinations. Obesity has also been linked to elevated blood levels of many inflammatory mediators, a condition of chronic low-grade inflammation. When the immune system is infected, it can cause an excessive inflammatory response, such as a cytokine storm, making it prone to severe COVID-19.
Nutrition and immunity
The immune system works all the time, but certain cells are activated by the presence of pathogens. Activation leads to a significant increase in the immune system’s need for energy-supplying substrates such as fatty acids, glucose and amino acids.
Some nutrients like vitamins A and D are direct regulators of gene expression in immune cells. They play an essential role in the maturation, differentiation and responsiveness of immune cells.
Antioxidants also play a vital role in protecting the body from oxidative stress. Classic antioxidant vitamins include vitamins C and E, including antioxidant enzymes such as catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase.
Hence, it is important to keep the body well fed to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Good nutrition provides an environment in which the immune system can respond quickly and appropriately to infection. In the meantime, the body and immune system cannot work properly due to a lack of nutrients.
In short, supplying the body with vitamins and minerals is vital in the fight against the severe coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) with acute respiratory syndrome. In some cases, even if a person becomes infected, the body’s immune system can easily fight off the pathogen, reducing the risk of serious illness.
Vitamins A, B6, folic acid, C, D and E, including trace elements like zinc, copper, iron and selenium, have been shown to play key roles in supporting the immune system and reducing the risk of infection.
“It appears advisable for individuals to consume sufficient amounts of essential nutrients to support their immune systems and help them deal with pathogens in the event they become infected,” the researchers explained.
“Eating a diet rich in plant and animal foods that meets current healthy eating guidelines is best for supporting the immune system,” they encouraged.