Its all ‘immune’ systems go in the battle against the viral pandemic. Now, more than ever heading into cold winter weather with Covid-19 cases rising, men especially need extra nutritional power kicking their immune functioning into high gear. That’s because several studies early on found, while men and women have the same susceptibility of contracting Covid-19, men are more prone to severe illness and dying from it.
While washing hands and physical distancing can be helpful methods of reducing transmission of this infection, good nutrition makes a difference also. And that’s where food choices and the nutrients they offer have an important role in reducing men’s suffering and death from Covid-19. Although no single food or nutrient will completely protect against illness, eating a balanced diet with specific nutrients can help.
What a man eats can impact his immune system’s ability to fight infections. The immune system depends on nutrients to function properly and mounting evidence suggests ensuring men get adequate amounts of certain specific nutrients may help optimize immune function, including improving resistance to infection.
Here are five specific nutrients men should focus on for optimizing their battle in fighting Covid-19:
- Vitamin A
Vitamin A is an essential micronutrient for immunity, cellular differentiation, growth, reproductions, and vision. When it comes to immune functioning, vitamin A plays a central role in a healthy, hardworking system. It is well established that widespread immune alterations and increased infectious disease morbidity and mortality occur in individuals deficient in vitamin A.
The best place to obtain this important micronutrient is from food sources. Found naturally in many foods including liver, cod-liver oil, butter, eggs, and dairy products, vitamin A is also abundant in brightly colored vegetables such as spinach, carrots, and red bell peppers along with orange fruits are another excellent source of this vitamin.
- Vitamin C
Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a highly effective antioxidant helping protect the body’s cells against oxidative stress. It also plays a role in protecting the integrity of immune cells. For decades, vitamin C has been touted as having powerful abilities of boosting immune functioning. And while it may not keep men from catching the virus, there is evidence that it may reduce the length and symptoms of Covid-19.
Sources of vitamin C are abundant and extend well beyond the ever-popular orange juice and oranges. Many fruit and vegetables supply this vital vitamin. These sources include citrus fruits such as grapefruit, tomatoes, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kiwi fruit, strawberries, and red peppers, among others. Since vitamin C is considered ‘fragile,’ it’s recommended to eat food sources of this vitamin as soon as possible after shopping. Fruits and vegetables also lose vitamin C when heated or stored for long periods of time. Be sure to limit steaming or microwaving vegetables for short periods of time to limit nutrient loss.
Should you take a vitamin C supplement? Since there can be risks of side effects, it’s advised to check with your doctor or dietitian before taking.
- Vitamin D
Nicknamed the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D has been getting a lot of attention since the start of the pandemic. That’s because vitamin D is well known for its role in supporting immune function. If you’re not familiar with this fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin D is both a vitamin and a hormone the body produces. The role it plays in immune function is complicated, but it appears to keep the immune system in balance helping minimize inflammation. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with frequent infections.
Results of studies examining the effects of vitamin D supplementation on infectious disease vary significantly and it’s difficult to unequivocally whether vitamin D supplementation is helpful for fighting infection. Overall, studies of vitamin D supplements and health outcomes have been mixed. The best recommendation is to consult with your doctor if vitamin D supplementation is right for you.
Sunlight helps your body manufacture vitamin D, but sunscreen blocks the UVB light needed for that process. You can increase your vitamin D intake with foods that naturally contain vitamin D such as fatty fish like salmon, egg yolk, beef liver and vitamin D fortified foods like milk, cereals, and orange juice.
- Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect cells, including immune cells, from free radicals and oxidative damage. Evidence suggests that vitamin E supports optimal immune function since a deficiency in this fat-soluble vitamin impairs both B and T-cell functioning.
One important role vitamin E plays has to do with aging. The natural age-related decline seen in immune functioning makes all of us susceptible to infections along with a higher risk of developing cancers and autoimmune diseases. However, vitamin E has been shown to enhance specifically the T-cell mediated immune response that declines with advanced aging.
While vitamin E supplementation can increase risk for bleeding and stroke, dietary intake is perfectly safe. Vitamin E is found naturally in foods like plant oils (especially sunflower, safflower, and wheat germ oil) nuts, sunflower seeds, spinach, and broccoli. Many processed foods like breakfast cereals have vitamin E added to them making them a good source of this nutrient.
Since Covid-19, the mineral zinc has gotten a lot of attention. That’s because research has found that people with lower blood levels of zinc who were admitted to hospitals with Covid-19 tended to fare worse than those with healthier levels. In 2010, a study found that zinc inhibited the activity and replication of another coronavirus, SARS-CoV which caused an outbreak in 2002.
Zinc’s role in immune functioning is that it help maintain the integrity of skin and for cells mediating immunity such as neutrophils and killer cells. The
While zinc has been shown to reduce the duration of the common cold, also a type of coronavirus, zinc deficiency in North America is uncommon. Yet, zinc is an essential mineral your body needs and cannot make itself. Foods naturally containing zinc are the best source it can also be obtained in a supplement form, but it’s recommended to take no more than 40 mg a day. The best food sources include oysters, beef roast, crab, lobster, baked beans, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, and peas.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.