Nutrition and Immunity: Lessons for COVID-19

Philip C. Calder

The role of the immune system is to protect the individual against pathogenic organisms. Nutrition is one of multiple factors that determines the immune response and good nutrition is important in supporting the immune response. Immunity can be impaired in older people, particularly those who are frail, in those living with obesity, in those who are malnourished and in those with low intakes of micronutrients. The immune impairments associated with nutritional inadequacy increase susceptibility to infection and permit infections to become more severe, even fatal. The adverse impact of poor nutrition on the immune system, including its inflammatory component, may be one of the explanations for the higher risk of more severe outcomes from infection with SARS-CoV-2 seen in older people and in those living with obesity. Studies of individual micronutrients including vitamin D and zinc suggest roles in reducing severity of infection with SARS-CoV-2. Good nutrition is also important in promoting a diverse gut microbiota, which in turn supports the immune system. The importance of nutrition in supporting the immune response also applies to assuring robust responses to vaccination. There are many lessons from the study of nutrition and immunity that are relevant for the battle with SARS-CoV-2.

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