Zorba Paster: Vitamins Could Help While Limiting Trips To The Store For Fresh Produce

In A Pandemic Vitamins Can Be A Supplemental Health Option

Bradley Stemke (CC-BY)

I’ve written about vitamins and supplements many times. My bottom line has always been that we get these essential micronutrients from food — colorful fruits and veggies.

The more variety, the better; the more colorful, the better. It’s the best way to stay healthy.

OK, but now it’s winter. Fresh produce is harder to find, more expensive and requires many people to visit the grocery store more than once a week because perishables are … perishable.

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What if you don’t have the time, transportation or money to do this? What should you do? Is vitamin supplementation a way to go — and, more important, does it do anything?

The coronavirus pandemic has led to questions about vitamins in preventing serious complications from the infection.

Nutrition plays a key role in reducing the risk of when you get sick and just how sick you get. We know that micronutrient intake boosts immunity, but exactly how it works is not clear.

Vitamin A is thought to help by supporting mucosal tissues defend against respiratory pathogens. Vitamin E, being a fat-soluble vitamin, can accumulate in fat membranes, neutralizing free radicals and triggering the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines essential in fighting infections.

Vitamin C supports white blood cell metabolism. And the role vitamin D plays is still a mystery.

The European Union was interested in whether increasing vitamin intake through pills might be good. A recent study from the British Medical Journal gives us clues.

Investigators looked at more than 6,000 adults in the UK who completed food and nutrition diaries, looking at what they ate, drank and whether they took vitamins A, E, C or D from 2008 to 2016.

Then they looked at whether they saw a clinician for an upper respiratory infection, bronchitis, exacerbation of COPD, asthma or pneumonia. The UK has a national health system, so the data is robust and complete.

Researchers controlled for age, sex, weight, smoking, household intake and how much people exercised. They found that higher intake of vitamins A, E and D was linked to fewer respiratory complaints, while vitamin C was a nonfactor.

Foods rich in vitamin A include carrots, dark green leafy vegetables and orange-colored fruits, while major dietary sources of vitamin E include vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.

It’s easy to get vitamins A and E from your diet, but vitamin D is a different issue. It’s hard to go out in the sun on that winter day, strip down to your skivvies and soak up the sun.

The study’s conclusion was, “Despite this, micronutrient deficiencies are often overlooked as a key contributor to the burden of malnutrition and poor health, presenting an additional layer of challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

My spin: I go back and forth on vitamins — maybe, maybe not. Maybe, maybe not. But the landscape has changed.

We’re in the middle of a pandemic that’s not going anywhere soon. What’s the downside of swallowing a pill — simply the cost? That may not be an issue if you shop right. It’s about a dime a day for a multivitamin. Add an extra 2000 IU of vitamin D and you’re up to 13 cents. As for vitamin E, get it from nuts because we know how good they are for cardiovascular health.

The jury is out when it comes to vitamins to prevent heart disease and stroke. But when it comes to respiratory infections, perhaps they might help. Stay well. Stay safe.