As is well known, there are many things to consider. However, it is undeniable that a good supply of micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, is essential for a functioning immune system.
Enough reason for many researchers around the world to investigate whether individual micronutrients – used in a targeted way – could not mitigate the course of a COVID-19 infection and thus prevent serious consequences or even the death of a patient.
Vitamin D is one of the most popular research topics. Some of the published studies sound very promising. For example the work of Spanish pulmonologist Marta Castillo.
“This is one of the studies that has been used over and over again to prove the effectiveness of vitamin D,” said Martin Smollich, a pharmacist and professor at the Institute of Nutritional Medicine at the Schleswig-Holstein University Medical Center in Lübeck.
Smollich does research on micronutrients and supplements. At a time when the effect of vitamins and the like is too much or too much for ideological and economic reasons, Smollich tries to present a differentiated picture.
Based on scientific data
At first glance, the outcome of the Castillo study is optimistic: of the 50 patients with COVID-19 who received vitamin D, only one ended up in the intensive care unit. In the control group, ie the subjects who were not given vitamin D, however, 50 percent had to be in intensive care.
“The first step in such studies is to see how these two groups are formed,” says Smollich. To really answer the question about the effectiveness of vitamin D, groups should be formed as uniformly as possible.
But that’s exactly the problem. The study lists some risk factors and provides information on the number of patients suffering from certain pre-existing conditions – for example type 2 diabetes
“Only 6% of the people in the vitamin D group were diabetics. But 19% of the patients who took placebo alone,” says Smollich.
The difference in high blood pressure is even more severe: 57% of participants who were not given vitamin D suffered from high blood pressure. In the other group, only 24% of people had high blood pressure.
“This means that the patients were in the group without vitamin D,” the pharmacist concludes. And such heterogeneous groups distort the result.
But this is not only remarkable: “In the case of COVID-19, we know that both diabetes and high blood pressure are risk factors that favor a serious course,” says Smollich. “So it is not surprising that patients in the vitamin D-free group ended up in the intensive care unit more often.”
A study conducted in such a methodically unclear manner does not answer whether the subjects in the control group should have received intensive care more often because they did not have vitamin D or because they had more serious previous illnesses.
Relationship between diet-related diseases and COVID-19
Many other studies and reviews, however, have concluded that vitamin D administration has no significant effect on the course of a COVID-19 infection.
Type 2 diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure have a lot in common: They are not the only risk factors for serious COVID-19 infections. They are also all diet related diseases.
So, if you thought that diet and nutritional status played no role in tackling the crown pandemic, you are wrong. The opposite is true.
“Nutrients are important for different levels of the immune system,” says Anika Wagner, Professor of Nutrition and Immune Systems at the University of Giessen. Lack of nutrients weakens the various defense mechanisms of the immune system, making it much easier for pathogens to cause harm.
Should they be dietary supplements?
Aside from the question of how important micronutrients are in preventing disease, there is also an ongoing debate about whether our immune system is satisfied with just healthy food or whether the immune system needs supplements to function at its peak.
The answer is: it depends. “First of all, I suggest that you meet your nutritional needs with your daily diet,” says Wagner. This is definitely possible.
However, the growing percentage of overweight people suggests that there is often a lack of practical application of a healthy diet. And so also an adequate supply of nutrients.
“Obese people often consume more foods with high energy density, but containing only a few micronutrients,” says Wagner. Sugary drinks, ready meals and sweets.
“At some point an obese person may develop diabetes and high blood pressure.” Lack of nutrients weakens the immune system, while obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure pave the way for a serious COVID course.
Here comes vitamin D again: Vitamin D deficiency “occurs more than the average in diseases and living conditions that in turn increase the risk of COVID-19, ie in old age, obesity or type 2 diabetes”, writes. Martin Smollich in the specialized blog of “Nutritional Medicine”.
A vicious circle that is neither new nor unknown. “Many pre-existing coronary heart disease could have been prevented through effective prevention,” the German Diabetes Society (DDG) said in a press release in May.
And yet: “In Germany, the relationship between diet and illness is often completely ignored. And I find it very dramatic, because it is something that could have been changed,” says Smollich. “Instead, the crown pandemic has struck a society in which eating-related illnesses are almost the norm.”
The elderly and the chronically ill need more nutrients
Another risk group could benefit from prioritizing nutrients for health: the elderly. “We know that the immune system no longer works so well in old age and that the potential for vitamin D synthesis also decreases,” says Anika Wagner. Here one has to think about supplementation.
The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) also comes to the same conclusion, recommending vitamin D supplementation for older and chronically ill people – especially if these people need care.
Pharmacologist Smollich writes in his blog that focusing on a fundamentally optimized nutrient state is more important than consuming individual micronutrients to be able to prevent various diseases. “Given the coronary pandemic, appropriate dietary and health policy measures would be more urgent than ever.”