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Weighing the importance of vitamins and minerals in maintaining good health
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Weighing the importance of vitamins and minerals in maintaining good health

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Chicken soup may be good for your soul, but when it comes to your health, minerals and vitamins such as zinc and vitamin D are vital to your daily well-being as well as dealing with the symptoms of colds and possibly COVID-19, experts say.

Zinc assists in the functioning of metabolism, which converts what you eat and drink into energy, and the immune system.

“There is well-established literature supporting zinc lozenges — not simply a supplement pill — in reducing the duration and severity of upper respiratory infections such as the common cold and COVID-19,” says Dr. Michael Hanak, family physician at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “We know it doesn't work as well among children, but can diminish viral replication among adolescents and adults.”

But, Hanak notes that diminished viral replication doesn't equate to cure, treatment, reduced transmission or protection from severe illness.

“It does offer an opportunity to reduce the severity of illness and shorten duration when taken early in the course of illness,” he says.

“For adults, numerous studies have concluded zinc can help decrease viral illness,” says Dr. Thomas Wilkins, Community Care Network Family Medicine practitioner on staff at Community Hospital in Munster and St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago. “Several studies separately concluded it can decrease duration of illness by up to a third of symptom days. Taking 80-95 mg daily, particularly if within three days of symptom onset, has been a supported regimen." Some studies have shown a benefit to 50 mg of zinc taken daily, he adds. 

Studies also have indicated that consuming 200 grams per day of the probiotic Lactobacillus casei found in yogurt and some cheeses daily can reduce the duration and symptoms of colds.

"Boosting immunity is a very popular topic in 2020 and now in 2021,” says Kelly Devine Rickert, president of Devine Nutrition Inc. in Griffith. “But is it possible to boost immunity? Not really. What we can do is to offer our immune system some support in the way of a healthy lifestyle. 

“Very limited research has shown that specific vitamins or minerals stop someone from getting a cold,” continues Rickert, a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in Sports Dietetics. “A few studies have shown that extra vitamin C during a cold may shorten a cold, but even then research is slim.”

“The data for vitamin C, vitamin D and vitamin E is mixed for adults, not showing significant benefit in many studies for colds,” says Wilkins. “There is some data that vitamin D deficiency is linked to COVID-19 infection severity, but several studies don’t show the benefit to routine supplements and some have shown harm.”

But for children 18 and younger, the data indicates that by taking 1,000- 2,000 mg of vitamin C daily before illness helps reduce the number of days a child exhibits cold symptoms.

“Many studies have shown that patients with low vitamin levels had higher rates of poor outcomes and recovery of COVID-19,” says Rickert, who recommends checking with your physician to determine whether you have  nutrient deficiencies.

“Vitamin D plays an important role in immune health and has been shown to play roles in launching and sustaining an immune response when the body comes under attack by pathogens,” says Hanak. “Furthermore, studies have supported vitamin D as having a role in down-regulating the intense, inflammatory processes brought about by COVID-19, particularly within the lungs. However, again, there's no evidence of preventing illness or eradicating disease once infected.”

Wilkins says that evidence regarding vitamins and COVID is limited, but growing.

“Given that they have shown positive effects for many other viruses, it is suspected that they should provide benefits against COVID as well,” he says. “Several studies are already showing the benefits outweigh the risk. I am currently recommending their use in COVID treatment and prevention.”

But, before diving into vitamin supplements, check with your doctor for recommended amounts.

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