Power-packed nutrients to reinforce your immune armour
Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM
While it could be stated that all vitamins and minerals are needed for healthy immunity and for nixing viruses in particular, some vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (plant-derived nutrients) are especially helpful against the nasty microbes. Here are my top 10 antiviral picks based on current research.
Berberine is a phytonutrient found in plants such as barberry, Oregon grape, and goldenseal, among others. Research published in the Archives of Virology found that berberine demonstrated antiviral activity against many viruses, including influenza virus, herpes simplex, human papilloma virus (HPV), and HIV.
Curcumin is one of a set of plant compounds known as curcuminoids found in turmeric, the spice that gives curries their characteristic yellow colour. A recent study published in Phytotherapy Research reported curcumin’s potential for targeting critical steps of the viral replication cycle, which viruses need to survive. It has also been found to reduce sometimes-fatal cytokine storms such as those linked to viral infections that cause COVID-19.
One of the primary phytonutrients found in green tea, EGCG has sparked scientific interest recently for its potential antiviral properties. A review of in vitro studies in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that EGCG demonstrated antiviral activity against multiple families of viruses that include HIV, influenza A, hepatitis C, hepatitis B, herpes simplex, and adenoviruses. Research published last October in the journal Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine found that EGCG blocked flu viruses from replicating.
One cup (250 mL) of brewed green tea can contain 50 to 100 mg of antiviral EGCG.
Although it plays a host of important roles throughout our bodies, magnesium is also crucial for activating vitamin D, which has long been recognized as essential for a healthy immune system. Sadly, scientists indicate that “the vast majority of people in modern societies are at risk for magnesium deficiency,” which would have a negative effect on vitamin D absorption and immune system function.
NAC has shown promise in double-blind clinical trials against influenza virus. And experimental research shows that this antioxidant nutrient that boosts glutathione levels in the body may block the penetration of the SARS-CoV-2 virus into cells, which researchers hypothesize could attenuate the risk of developing COVID-19 or help reduce its severity.
Quercetin is a plant pigment (known as a flavonoid) that’s found in apples, berries, green tea, and onions. A study published in the medical journal Viruses found that quercetin inhibited a wide spectrum of flu viruses’ ability to enter our cells, where they hijack the cells’ machinery to reproduce.
A deficiency in the mineral selenium has been linked to a higher susceptibility to RNA viral infections, including influenza and HIV, as well as more severe illness. Researchers are currently studying the potential role that preventive selenium supplementation may play in battling the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Just about everyone is aware of the immune-supporting properties of vitamin C, but research published in Frontiers in Immunology shows it has a synergistic antiviral effect when combined with quercetin. Researchers hypothesize that this synergistic antiviral effect could be important in the prevention and treatment of respiratory tract infections, possibly including SARS-CoV-2.
Vitamin D is well known as one of the primary immune-supporting nutrients and may play a role in the antiviral response to viral infections. Yet, estimates suggest that about 1 billion people worldwide are vitamin-D deficient, putting them at greater risk against viral threats.
Be sure to supplement with magnesium while taking vitamin D, because magnesium is necessary to activate vitamin D.
Zinc plays a critical role in ensuring our immunity to viruses. And research has found that zinc-deficient populations have greater susceptibility to viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C. Supplementation has shown zinc’s importance in improving “antiviral responses and systemic immunity” as well as its ability to “inhibit viral replications or infection-related symptoms.”
Nutritional supplements can be highly beneficial in keeping your immune system strong, holding viruses at bay, or supporting your body while battling them.
|Virus type||Primary effects|
|respiratory||·influenza viruses: linked to the flu ·respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): linked to some colds, pneumonia, and bronchiolitis ·rhinovirus: most likely virus linked to the common cold ·SARS-CoV-2: linked to COVID-19|
|skin||·herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1): linked to cold sores ·varicella zoster virus (VZV): linked to chicken pox|
|viral food poisoning||·hepatitis A: impacts the liver ·norovirus: linked to gastrointestinal (GI) illness ·rotavirus: linked to diarrhea and dehydration|
|sexually transmitted illness (STI)||·human papillomavirus (HPV): linked to skin or mucous membrane growths ·hepatitis B: impacts the liver ·herpes simplex-2 (HSV-2): linked to genital herpes ·herpes simplex-1 (HSV-1): can sometimes cause genital herpes ·human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): affects some T-cells of the immune system|
|other||·Epstein-Barr virus (EBV): a type of herpes that is linked to mononucleosis (mono) ·West Nile virus (WNV): commonly transmitted by mosquitoes, causing fever and headaches, and in rare cases, brain or spinal cord inflammation ·enteroviruses: a group of viruses that can be linked to meningitis|
This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue of alive.