Vitamin Supplementation to Boost Immunity

Posted on April 21, 2020

Ch Immune Blog

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing our world. To protect yourself and others, I strongly advocate for social distancing, proper hand hygiene and wearing masks in public. I also recommend taking steps to optimize your immune function. A well-functioning immune system is the key to preventing infection and disease. This is very important as we face the COVID-19 pandemic head on. Getting adequate sleep, exercising and eating nutritious food are important basic steps, but you can do more. Research has shown that supplementing with specific vitamins and minerals can improve the immune response and provide protection from viral illness.

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1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is involved in a number of biochemical processes that are directly related to immune function. Its anti-oxidant activity helps to decrease inflammation and it reduces circulating free radicals that cause tissue damage and oxidative stress. It also boosts the activity of immune cells, including phagocytes and lymphocytes, which protect us from bacterial and viral infections.

Supplementing with vitamin C may reduce the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections, especially if you do not get enough in your diet. There is evidence that high dose vitamin C given intravenously may help patients in hospital with severe lung inflammation and clinical trials are ongoing to study its effectiveness in patients with COVID-19.

The evidence for taking vitamin C to protect specifically against the Corona virus is lacking, but given its benefits towards overall immune support and its safety, I believe it is a good choice for supplementation.

I recommend 2000 mg of vitamin C daily in capsule or powder form.

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2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat soluble hormone that we make in our skin after exposure to the sun. People living in northern climates (Canada) are commonly deficient in Vitamin D. Even in the summer months our levels may be low if we spend time avoiding the sun. There are multiple studies that show an association between low Vitamin D and upper respiratory tract infections.

Vitamin D enhances our protective immunity through its effect on monocytes and macrophages, white blood cells that fight pathogens. It can also reduce inflammation. Vitamin D is an important immune modulator in diseases of autoimmunity, including MS, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. This population seems to be more susceptible to COVID-19.

The overall evidence for Vitamin D and immune support is good. It is not harmful so long as you remain within the recommended upper limit for dosing (4000 IU). Some people will take large doses (10,000 IU or more) but this is only safe under the direction of a physician who can measure your blood level.

I recommend supplementing with Vitamin D3 at a dose of 4000 IU daily for adults. Take this as an oil suspension (drops) rather than tablets to improve absorption.

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3. Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that is essential for proper immune function. It is needed for immune cell development and communication. Nearly 30% of the elderly population is estimated to be zinc deficient and this may significantly impair their body’s immune response to infection. Zinc deficiency is difficult to diagnose.

Supplementing with zinc has been shown to protect against common infections of the respiratory tract. Taking zinc during an infection may also reduce the length of disease.

The daily dose of zinc I recommend is 30 mg daily (and not to exceed 40 mg daily). Taking a chelated form may help with absorption.

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What I have learned as a functional medicine practitioner (and did not learn in medical school) is that many people benefit from supplementation with specific nutrients and vitamins in order for their bodies to work optimally. This is due to individual genetic variation, problems with nutrient absorption, eating overly processed foods stripped of nutrients, environmental toxicity, hormonal imbalances and stress. Nutritional supplementation, when done correctly, helps the body to overcome increased demands and deficiencies.

I do not recommend you rely solely on supplements, but I do believe they are an excellent way to support your health.

Dr. Christine Hatfield, MD, FRCSC