Supporting the immune system in the COVID-19 pandemic

Aprox. 6 minutes reading time

Coronavirus COVID-19 disease, caused by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is an extremely easily communicable disease, identified in December 2019 and declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The first infections were related, with some evidence, but not firm, to the seafood market in Huanan (Wuhan, China). The researchers used sequencing technology to show that SARS-CoV-2 and coronavirus in bats have up to 96.2% genetic sequence similarity, suggesting bats as a possible source of SARS-CoV2. As of 16 April 2020, more than 2 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 137,000 corresponding deaths have been reported in more than 210 countries, and these figures are growing exponentially daily.

Influenza-like symptoms of COVID-19 usually appear 5-6 days after infection and include coughing, sore throat, fever, muscle and body aches, even loss of scent or taste in some cases.

As a clear treatment or vaccine for COVID-19 disease has not yet been developed, the scientific community and authorities are constantly looking for information for the short- and long-term management of the current and future pandemic crisis. The food sector and the parties involved in this sector are also in the spotlight, as food is necessary for human survival and cannot be blocked. A severe pandemic that causes more than a 25% reduction in labour availability could lead to significant food shortages around the globe. Research authorities and communities should quickly identify the most critical threats to the food system during a pandemic in order to implement mitigation measures.

There are four important issues that the food industry and the food supply chain should address in the meantime. First, as consumers seek to protect themselves and their immune systems by adopting healthier diets, the availability of bioactive ingredients in functional foods and foods may become essential as demand for these products may increase. Second, food safety is a significant issue to avoid the spread of the virus among producers, retailers and consumers. Third, food security problems have arisen due to the blocking of a billion people in their homes. Last but not least, the sustainability of food systems during the pandemic is another issue that the sector should address in order to reduce possible major crises in the future.

We would like to focus in this article specifically on the role of bioactive ingredients in supporting the human immune system in the COVID-19 pandemic. As I mentioned in another post, eating foods rich in vitamins can stimulate the immune system to help fight viruses. For example, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) has a protective role because it supports immune function and is necessary for the development and repair of all body tissues. Also, under certain conditions, the lower respiratory tract of infections occurs. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwi and broccoli. Other vegetables, such as carrots, spinach and sweet potatoes, are rich in vitamin A. This vitamin comprises a group of fat-soluble compounds (including retinol, retinoic acid and β-carotene) that play a key role in immune function. For example, isotretinoin, a derivative of vitamin A, mediates the reduction of angiotensin 2 conversion enzyme (ACE2), which is a crucial host cell protein required for SARS-VOC-2 to enter the body. In addition, supplementation with Vitamins D and E may increase our resistance to COVID-19, as decreased levels of Vitamins D and E could lead to coronavirus infection. There is research that suggests that oral or intravenous administration of bioactive lipids (such as arachidonic acid and other unsaturated fatty acids) may help improve the resistance and recovery of SARS-CoV-2, SARS and MERS infections. Other research has shown that natural polyphenols, such as hesperidin, are effective inhibitors of the main protease of COVID-19, which is considered a potential target for therapeutic treatment.

Chinese herbal medicines have also been shown to help in the treatment of viral diseases. For example, ginseng root is useful in preventing viral respiratory diseases, such as those due to flu strains.

Dietary supplementation with foods, diet menus containing vitamins, bioactive lipids, flavonoids, can be a tool to support the human immune system against COVID19. During this period, supporting the immune system is one of the main goals of global consumer health. In a recent consumer study, nearly one in five consumers said supporting the immune system as the number one reason to buy healthy foods and products. In the new era of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is predicted that people will look for more and more products or ways to stimulate their immune system in the future. The most handy tool is Dahna app.

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