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B Vitamins May Help Improve COVID-19 Outcomes, Researchers Say

woman taking a vitamin

 

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Key Takeaways

  • Researchers are studying whether vitamin B can prevent or reverse cytokine storm, one of the major complications and causes of death in COVID-19 patients.
  • While certain B vitamins, like vitamin B6, contribute to a healthy immune system, experts say it's too soon to make concrete claims.
  • Other vitamins, like vitamin C and vitamin D, can help support your immune system.

A new report suggests that B vitamins may improve COVID-19 symptoms and reduce the length of hospital stays for those with severe infections.

In an August report published in Maturitas, researchers from the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) hypothesized that because B vitamins help build and maintain a healthy immune system, they could potentially prevent or reduce COVID-19 symptoms and/or treat an active infection.

Patients with severe COVID-19 infections often experience a hyperactive immune response called cytokine storm. This exaggerated response releases signaling proteins called cytokines, which are an important part of your immune system. But if too many are released, it can cause severe acute inflammation that leads to tissue and organ damage.

The researchers from UAEU suggest that because the B vitamins down-regulate the cytokines that cause inflammation, they could potentially prevent or reverse cytokine storm.

Cytokine storm is the underlying trigger of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), the most severe complication in COVID-19 patients. ARDS has a mortality rate of 40% to 50%.

"Overall nutritional status contributes to immune resilience. Key deficiencies, theoretically, can make someone more vulnerable to infections," Daniel A. Monti, MD, chair of integrative medicine and nutritional sciences at Thomas Jefferson University, tells Verywell. Monti, co-author of Tapestry of Health, was not involved with the UAEU study. "That said, there is no data to support the statement that vitamin B can prevent COVID-19."

Hypothetically, B vitamins could improve breathing, prevent blood clots, and decrease mortality rate in COVID-19 patients. But most experts agree with Monti, and claim it's too soon to tell if there's a significant connection between vitamin B and COVID-19 outcomes.

Can Vitamin B Prevent Cytokine Storm?

Despite the lack of research, most experts agree that if there were a B vitamin that could help with COVID-19 symptoms, it would likely be vitamin B6.

"Since inflammation increases the utilization of the active form of vitamin B6 (PLP) and leads to its depletion, COVID-19 patients experiencing inflammation would become acutely depleted of PLP," Kaitlyn Rose, PharmD, CTNC, tells Verywell. "So PLP repletion may help to balance the immune response, allowing the control of viral replication without the cytokine storm."

William W. Li, MD, physician and president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, adds that vitamin B may activate a special type of immune cell that helps fight infections, called T cells, that live in the lungs and the gut.

In addition to helping kill infected cells, T cells also contribute to long-lasting immunity. In a recent study, researchers looked at T cell memory in those who were previously exposed to other human coronaviruses. The researchers found that T cells have a memory that enables them to recognize specific viral proteins so the immune system can fight off coronaviruses—including COVID-19—in subsequent exposures.

What This Means For You

While scientists examine possible connections between vitamin B and COVID-19, the best action you can take right now is to eat well and exercise regularly to boost your immune system.

Vitamin D and Vitamin C May Be Better for Immunity

While the jury is still out on whether or not B vitamins, or vitamin B6 in particular, have a significant effect on COVID-19 outcomes, experts do agree that there's enough research to make claims that other vitamins, like vitamin D and vitamin C, can help keep your immune system functioning optimally.

"I believe vitamin B6 is just one piece of the puzzle," Rose says. "We must consider all of the other vitamins and minerals that the human body needs in order to function optimally."

Vitamin D enhances the function of macrophages and T-cells, and there's some research that shows vitamin D deficiency can contribute to severe COVID-19 infections. While there's been some question on whether the deficiency directly correlates to the severity of these infections, there's no denying vitamin D is crucial for immune health.

Vitamin C also supports the immune system, acts as an antioxidant, and wards off oxidative stress, a potential trigger of cytokine storm.

Other Ways to Support Your Immune System

There's no "cure-all" for COVID-19, and a single vitamin is unlikely to make a huge difference in your health. While supplements can certainly help you meet your vitamin needs and make sure you don't develop deficiencies, they can't take the place of having long-term healthy habits.

Li says that one of the most important ways you can support your immune system is by sleeping at least seven hours each day, preferably in a room under 70 degrees.

"Resilience and optimal health can be enhanced by getting enough rest, maintaining some level of fitness, having a balanced diet that is plentiful in vegetables and some fruits, making sure vitamin D levels are adequate, and getting a healthy intake of foods rich in vitamin C," Monti says.

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