There has been a lot of information in the news lately about people adding vitamins to their diet in hopes of protecting themselves against COVID-19. Zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C have all been discussed as possible protectors, but so far there has not been a clear consensus made to know for sure if taking these supplements can make a difference when it comes to coronavirus.
While many arguments have been made, both agreeing and disagreeing on this topic, here’s what we know about taking supplements to protect against COVID-19.
Will Taking Zinc Protect Me From Coronavirus?
At this time, there is no hard evidence proving that zinc can help with COVID-19. High-dose zinc has been found to reduce how long cold symptoms last, and it is known to play a key role in supporting the immune system, but so far there hasn’t been enough research done to determine its impact on someone with coronavirus.
Zinc is the second-most common trace mineral in our bodies, affecting all organs and cells. It’s an essential mineral that most Americans get plenty of in our diets by eating foods like beans, nuts, whole grains, red meat, poultry, and dairy.
Zinc helps to strengthen the immune system and regulates metabolism, and if you’re eating foods regularly that contain zinc, you are likely getting enough to feel the positive impact of the mineral without needing to add an extra daily supplement.
Those who are pregnant, as well as some infants and children, may be told by a physician to add a zinc supplement for extra care, but most of us who are healthy and follow a balanced diet are getting enough zinc.
If a person isn’t zinc deficient, taking a zinc supplement likely won’t provide any additional protection. Experts have found that once you have the minimal of amount of zinc in your system, adding a supplement doesn’t necessarily mean your immune system is boosted even more.
Because there is no hard evidence to support an argument that zinc can protect against coronavirus, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to five different companies who were advertising that their zinc product could provide prevention and/or treatment of coronavirus, and the World Health Organization (WHO) agrees that more evidence is needed before we can count on zinc as a means of coronavirus prevention or protection. They do not recommend self-medication with any medicines, including antibiotics, as a prevention or cure for COVID-19.
If you have already started taking a zinc supplement, and you’re getting enough zinc in your diet, please know that too much zinc can be harmful. If you are experiencing diarrhea, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, stomach cramps and/or vomiting, it could be a sign of too much zinc.
If you’re consuming too much zinc for a long period of time, it can actually lower your immunity, among other negative side effects. Always check with your doctor if you’re unsure or have concerns.
Will a Vitamin D Supplement Protect Me From Coronavirus?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that there are insufficient data to recommend either for or against the use of vitamin D for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.
Most people in the United States consume less than recommended amounts of vitamin D, which is a critical to maintaining strong bones. It helps the body absorb the calcium you’re taking in, so those who have a deficiency may develop brittle bones. The immune system also needs vitamin D to help fight off bacteria and viruses.
Vitamin D is found in some foods, such as fish, cheese and mushrooms as well as regular milk, soy, almond and oat milk. The body makes vitamin D when you’re outside in sunny weather, and most people receive at least some vitamin D this way — but of course, where you live plays a big factor in how much.
There have been a number of studies done recently that observed the impact of vitamin D on coronavirus. In one of these studies, made up of 489 participants, it was found that those who had a vitamin D deficiency were more likely to test positive for COVID-19 compared to people who had normal levels of vitamin D.
While a vitamin D deficiency is common in the United States, it’s even more common among Hispanic and African-American people, who have also experienced higher rates of COVID-19.
According to the NIH, “The rationale for using vitamin D is based largely on immunomodulatory effects that could potentially protect against COVID-19 infection or decrease the severity of the illness.”
There are studies ongoing to look closer at using vitamin D to prevent and treat coronavirus, as well as investigational trials using vitamin D in people with COVID-19. As more information on the vitamin D trials becomes available, updates can be found on ClinicalTrials.gov.
Should I Be Taking Vitamin C to Protect Against Coronavirus?
Similarly to the situation with zinc and vitamin D, there’s currently insufficient data supporting for or against using vitamin C for the treatment of COVID-19.
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid, and it’s an antioxidant that impacts the immune system. Vitamin C also protects against damage caused by cigarette smoke, air pollution and UV sun rays. Citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruit, are a great source of vitamin C, as well as vegetables like broccoli and baked potatoes.
Most people in the United States are getting enough vitamin C from their diet, but some people need more than others. If you’re a smoker, or are often exposed to secondhand smoke, you may need more vitamin C in the form of a supplement so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you might not be getting enough.
While there hasn’t yet been enough research done to know the full impact of vitamin C on coronavirus, many people think it can be a remedy for the common cold—but research shows that vitamin C supplements don’t actually reduce the risk of getting a cold. It is true, however, that cold symptoms can be milder and last for a shorter length of time in those who do take vitamin C supplements.
There are currently clinical trials underway to further research whether or not vitamin C can effectively be used as a treatment for COVID-19.
How Can I Best Protect Myself and Loved Ones?
Unfortunately, we can’t say for sure that any vitamins or supplements can help treat or prevent COVID-19, but we are continuing to research and learn. Until a vaccine is developed and available for public use, your best defense methods against coronavirus are to continue wearing a mask and social distancing, as well as:
Avoiding contact with anyone who is sick
Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
Washing your hands often or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
Continue to stay up to date with the latest COVID-19 news by visiting our Coronavirus Resource Hub.