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Column: Adequate nutrient intake helps boost immune system against coronavirus

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COVID-19 poses a significant threat to both health and the economy. Worldwide data show that no one is immune from getting this novel corona­virus or dying from it. Although youth and good health might enhance the survival of viral infections, these are not barriers against this virus.

Without a vaccine, physical separation is the only proven prevention, but physical separation does not promote opening the economy.

Sadly, COVID-19 is not the only threat that we are now facing. Misinformation about prevention and treatments, well-intentioned or not, can jeopardize health in ways most of us have never imagined. Even medications approved for other medical uses can have dire consequences for some individuals. For this reason, medical trials are not a luxury, but rather are essential.

Question: Which medications are being promoted?

Answer: Many drugs are under investigation, but hydroxychloroquine is the drug most loudly promoted and often touted as safe. President Donald Trump and others have repeatedly asked, “What do you have to lose?” This overly simplistic question assumes that FDA- approved drugs are safe for everyone under every situation. This concept could not be farther from the truth.

This drug should only be used with the guidance and care of a physician knowledgeable about your personal health status. Brazilian drug trials, Swedish hospitals and now a U.S. study on hydroxychloroquine found serious and deadly side effects.

The Mayo Clinic website on hydroxychloroquine side effects lists more than 40 potential adverse reactions in non-COVID-19 adults, including serious eyesight and hearing loss problems and life-threatening reactions: supplements/hydroxy chloroquine-oral-route/side-effects/drg-20064216.

Q: Are there other possible therapies that might be helpful with COVID-19?

A: In February, Drs. Lei Zhang and Yunhui Liu published a review discussing potential interventions for COVID-19 in the Medical Virology journal. They discuss seven drugs that enhanced immune function with both SARS and MERS viruses and more than a dozen possible treatments for coronaviruses. Additionally, multiple nutrients were identified to increase the efficacy of many of these intervention drugs. Of interest is the fact that these nutrients are the same vitamins and minerals required for many immune system functions.

Vitamins that improve immune function include A, C, D, E, B2, B3, B6, folate and B12. Essential minerals involved in immune function include iron, copper, magnesium, selenium and zinc. Having inadequate amounts of even one of these essential nutrients can negatively affect the immune system and likely weaken the immune defenses against COVID-19. Insufficient nutrition may be an additional factor in determining who will have more severe complications from COVID-19.

Few individuals know whether they are getting adequate amounts of essential nutrients. To make up for potential nutrient inadequacies, it can make sense to take a moderate-dose (not high-dose) multivitamin-mineral supplement daily. You owe it to your immune system.

Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa. Dobbs also works with University Health Services.

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