Fighting a global pandemic

Following the Coronavirus outbreak in China, the whole world has been facing a pandemic challenge that has affected both the medical and financial health on a global scale. The novel Coronavirus has proven to be both deadly and extremely contagious, making it a potent combination that has crippled our daily activities on a massive scale. While it is true that a large majority of people who contact the COVID-19 disease suffer from only mild to moderate symptoms, however, a substantial number of people will experience severe symptoms.

At the time of writing this article, the World Health Organization had reported around 6.2 million confirmed cases spread out across 216 countries with nearly 380,000 recorded deaths. However, the true infection and death rate is still unknown. Justifiably, we have seen an equally strong response from governments who have dug deep to mobilize record amounts of resources to control the virus spread. Sadly, the most vulnerable and immunocompromised are most susceptible to COVID-19.  There is a global consensus that poor nutritional status and pre-existing health conditions increase the risk of a poorer outcome. These conditions include; diabetes, chronic lung and cardiovascular disease, obesity, dementia and various other diseases. The common cause is pre-existing systemic inflammation.

Researchers from all over the world have diverted all their focus to finding viable treatment solutions and vaccines in the shortest possible timeframe. Included in this are efforts to unravel possible treatments that may help in the fight against the infection by bolstering the body’s response to the virus. In the absence of definitive treatment or a vaccine, the importance of nutrition as a strategy to support the immune system and mitigate risks has never been more important. One of these treatments is the use of Nutraceutical supplements.

The effect of Nutraceuticals against COVID-19

Nutraceuticals are non-drug components found in food that can provide nutritive benefits. Having a wide range of benefits, they are often known as “medical foods” or “functional foods”. The most notable benefits of Nutraceuticals is their ability to help in the prevention of many harmful diseases, including cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, and so many more. It is this specific ability to help combat cardiovascular disease and viruses in general that have made them a topic of interest in the fight against COVID-19.

The coronavirus is a respiratory disease that is transmitted through droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. When inhaled by the receptor, it gains entry into the cell through the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), thereby infecting the lower respiratory tract. When this happens, the body’s immune system naturally begins to respond by recruiting antigens and manifesting through inflammation. This crucial stage is what decides the severity of a person’s condition. It can lead to either mild/moderate symptoms or severe symptoms like organ failure, septic shock, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and even viral pneumonia. The entire goal of treatment, in this case, is to help reduce the inflammatory response, thereby enabling the body to function while maintaining homeostasis.

Data for the effectiveness of  COVID-19 interventions are still emerging. With this in mind, the aim of nutraceuticals would be,

“To optimize modifiable lifestyle and nutritional factors, in order to enhance overall immune function.
Subsequently,
reducing the progression from mild infection to illness”.    

 

How can Nutraceuticals help fight COVID-19?

A powerful effect of these non-drug entities is their ability to mitigate infections and boost the type 1 interferon response to RNA viruses. Among its many other functions, Type 1 interferon acts to prevent the spread of the virus to uninfected neighbouring cells.  Some of the other nutraceuticals that can be considered;

  • N- Acetylcysteine (NAC), interestingly has historically proven to be effective in the fight against chronic respiratory diseases for its actions as a mucolytic (thinning the mucus). This particular feature helps with reducing the mucus congestion in the respiratory tract. Doses up to 600 mg/day has proven to be effective as a mucolytic. Even more important is its ability to act as an antioxidant at higher doses of 1200mg or more. This makes it a strong anti-oxidant preventing oxidative stress, thus reducing the formation of pro-inflammatory factors in the body.  In turn, this would reduce the risk of complications involving COVID-19.
  • Quercetin which has antiviral, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Curcumin could reduce viral replication and is a good anti-inflammatory.
  • Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), commonly known as green tea has shown to prevent flu in healthcare workers.
  • Resveratrol has shown to have antiviral modulating activity.
  • Elderberry is likely to be most effective in the prevention of early viral infection of the respiratory system (based on animal research).
  • Immune boosting with antioxidants such as vitamin A, B, C, D, E, and Zinc.
  • Immune Support with Omega 3 Fish Oil.
  • Immune health with probiotics to support the gut environment.

One must note, however, that there is no conclusive evidence regarding the efficacy of  Nutraceutical supplement against COVID-19, and the use of treatment has been very strain-specific and therefore inconclusive for every case of the virus.

Benefit can also be had from ensuring a nutritious healthy diet with a plentiful of fibre, fruits and vegetables. Unsurprisingly, all of this is not dissimilar to advice for the Flu. It is important to note that while there may be no specific set treatment and guaranteed cure for the COVID-19, the dynamic action of Nutraceuticals in inflammation reduction makes them a highly valuable asset that allows the immune system to function more effectively.

References:

  1. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019. (accessed: 3 June 2020).
  2. Lordan, Ronan & Norton, Catherine & Tsoupras, Alexandros. (2020). COVID-19: The Inflammation Link and the Role of Nutrition in Potential Mitigation. Nutrients. 12. 1466. 10.3390/nu12051466.
  3. Van Hecke O, Lee J. N-acetylcysteine: A rapid review of the evidence for effectiveness in treating COVID-19. CEBM. Apr 2020. https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/n-acetylcysteine-a-rapid-review-of-the-evidence-for-effectiveness-in-treating-covid-19/ (accessed: 2 June 2020)
  4. The Institute of Functional Medicine. COVID-19: Functional Medicine Resources. Apr 2020. https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/the-functional-medicine-approach-to-covid-19-virus-specific-nutraceutical-and-botanical-agents/ (accessed: 3 June 2020)
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