Why are we not all equal in the face of Covid-19? Why did some people have mild forms similar to a cold or flu, when others developed severe forms which led them to intensive care? What if diet was a serious risk factor? This is the hypothesis considered by a team of researchers from the University of Ghent, Belgium, who may have uncovered a link between a deficiency in essential nutrients and a severe form of coronavirus.
According to this study relayed by the Belgian press, a significant deficiency in zinc and selenium could be a aggravating factor. By what mechanism? What are the effects of these two nutrients? And how to cover these needs on a daily basis?
A deficiency found in the patients studied
As part of their study, the Belgian researchers recruited a sample of 138 Covid patients admitted in 2020 to UZ Ghent and AZ Jan Palfijn, two hospitals in Ghent, and analyzed their blood. “We wanted to check the level of certain nutrients,” Pr Gijs Du Laing, co-author of the study, told Belgian media HLN. The team found that “almost all of the patients who ended up becoming seriously ill, or even dying in hospital, had severe selenium and zinc deficiency upon admission”, particularly the elderly, a- he added. “We knew from previous studies that people who were deficient in certain nutrients fell much more seriously ill with certain viral infections. We wanted to know if this was also the case with Covid-19 ”.
At the same time, the researchers found that “patients who did not have this deficiency, or in whom it was less pronounced, more often survived and recovered faster. They fell much less seriously ill, ”said Professor Du Laing. While scientific work on the effects of these deficiencies has already been carried out in Germany and China, the Belgian study authors indicate that “in China, it has already been found that regions where people have enough selenium in blood have far fewer deaths from Covid-19 ”. In addition, according to the researchers, a significant zinc or selenium deficiency could increase the risk factors for the severe form of Covid-19 in patients with diabetes, obesity or cardiovascular disease.
Nutrients involved in the immune response
“This is a plausible hypothesis, because such deficiencies can cause immunity disorders. However, it is quite rare to be in deficit of both zinc and selenium, so if we notice this double deficiency, it is potentially undernourished people, a priori elderly people ”, estimates Dr. Laurent Chevallier. , nutritionist and author of ”
I live with an autoimmune disease »(Ed. Marabout, 2020).
But by what mechanism can these nutrients influence the risk of having a severe form of the coronavirus? “Zinc and selenium are trace elements which are stored in minute quantities in the body, but which play a decisive role in the proper functioning of the immune system,” explains Raphaël Grumann, nutritionist and author of ” Relieve Covid-long »* (Leduc ed.). It is therefore necessary to bring it fairly regularly to the body: immune cells will only be able to develop in the presence of these two minerals and other essential elements such as vitamins D and C, or proteins, which will contribute to the constitution of immune cells, in particular lymphocytes ”.
These two trace elements are therefore essential for our ability to fight against viral infections. “However, in the case of Covid-19, an immune deficiency can promote serious forms: the body does not have the capacity to react quickly enough and will be submerged by the virus, continues Raphaël Gruman. When the immune system is efficient, the body has on the contrary the capacity to evacuate the virus and not to trigger a symptomatic form, or to attenuate the symptoms and shorten their duration ”.
Ensure daily intake, especially for vulnerable people
So, how can you ensure your daily intake of essential nutrients to avoid being deficient? “No need to rush into food supplements. Most often, a balanced diet is sufficient, ”reassures Dr. Chevallier. In practice, “zinc and selenium are mainly present in seafood: crustaceans, fish and seafood, it is the main source best absorbed by the body, details Raphaël Gruman. It is also found in eggs and a little in whole grains, but in relatively small amounts. While a serving of 100g of shrimp ensures the zinc needs for the week ”.
If the Belgian researchers are not able to confirm that the patients in their study would not have developed a severe form of the coronavirus if they had not suffered from a significant deficiency in zinc and selenium, they nevertheless recommend a supplementation in vulnerable people, especially seniors. Specific support can thus be put in place. Dr Chevallier, who provided nutritional monitoring of post-Covid patients, observed that “the coronavirus increases catabolism: patients who are already undernourished are even more so afterwards. They had to be prescribed a broad supplementation of vitamins, minerals and trace elements, as well as a diet enriched in proteins ”.
And in a preventive way, “the elderly who can have a deficient diet must be supplemented with selenium, zinc, vitamin D and C”, insists Raphaël Gruman. And “practicing physical activity helps strengthen the immune system, regardless of age,” adds the nutritionist. Going for a walk, doing flexible cardio exercises like water aerobics or the exercise bike, or going up the stairs once a day is already beneficial ”.
* « Relieving Covid-long, natural solutions », By Raphaël Grumann, Editions Leduc, in bookstores since October 12, 18.90 euros.