The COVID-19 pandemic has brought uncertainties and challenges to keep us and our families physically and mentally safe and healthy. During the launch of the vaccine campaign, policy makers should focus on initiatives that can improve the vaccine’s effectiveness for the common man. Several studies show that diet has an inexpensive yet significant impact on vaccination results and therefore can improve the effectiveness of the vaccine.
It has been found that immunocompromised people with underlying non-communicable diseases are more susceptible to COVID-19 and at risk for COVID-19. A study of the effectiveness of vaccines in obese people shows a poor response to vaccines in obese people, putting them at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases. On the other hand, it is known that immunodeficiency caused by malnutrition decreases the effective response to vaccines. Both malnutrition and obesity are at risk of increasing mortality rates during the COVID-19 pandemic, and both may undermine the effectiveness of new vaccines in the long term. The novel coronavirus, although genetically similar to SAR-CoV, is a new strain and has no underlying natural immunity to it.
Lifestyle changes and increased consumption of ultra-processed foods have led to an obesity epidemic, which has led to an increase in diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for about 70 percent of all deaths worldwide. The pandemic has impacted the ability to fight noncommunicable diseases by disrupting public health in countries around the world. A quick World Health Organization survey of 163 countries found that NCD services are severely disrupted in 75 percent of the countries studied due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The cancellation of elective care, lack of transportation due to lockdown, insufficient manpower to deal with the overwhelming number of cases, and the closure of hospital services were some of the reasons cited. Along with other risk factors – poor diet, alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity, and stress – people with NCDs are at additional risk.
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A recent review of vaccine studies conducted by Ohio State University shows that stress, depression, and unhealthy behavior affect the immune response to vaccines. This effect can be greatest in vulnerable groups such as the elderly. Research suggests psychological and behavioral interventions to improve the vaccine’s effectiveness and reduce side effects.
The above figure clearly shows the various factors that influence the immune response to vaccination. Among other things, it is evident that nutritional factors play an essential role in the individual’s response to vaccines. According to Prof. Srinath Reddy, “a vaccine only provides the antigenic stimulus and how the body reacts is influenced by nutritional status and varies between individuals”.
Healthy eating helps build the immune system, and conversely, the lack of a healthy diet can weaken both innate and adaptive immunity, making one susceptible to infection. However, it is possible to reverse and strengthen the immune system by correcting nutritional deficiencies. In the guidelines on immune system health requirements, certain vitamins and trace elements such as zinc, iron, selenium and copper have been recognized for their role in the functioning of the immune system. A review of micronutrients and their effects on the immune system suggests the role of vitamins C and D, as well as zinc in boosting immune support and reducing the risk of infection. Hence, it is advisable to eat a nutritious diet to support the immune system and deal with pathogens.
Quoting Hippocrates: “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”
It is known that nutrient intake and the incidence of the disease affect people’s nutritional status, and deficiency can lead to severe malnutrition. Malnutrition can affect the quality of the immune response to vaccinations, especially in vulnerable populations affected by the hunger pandemic. A balanced and healthy diet can ensure a robust immune system and a lower incidence of chronic diseases and infections.
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As the world reforms and regrows after a devastating year, it becomes increasingly important to have a nutritionally rich food intake to reduce the long-term complications of COVID-19. Studies show better response to vaccines and antibody stores in older people who have consumed five or more servings of fruits and vegetables and / or vitamin E supplements. Polyphenols are naturally occurring micronutrients in plants and act as dietary antioxidants. One review suggests that long-term consumption of polyphenols offers protection against cardiovascular disease and diabetes because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Another study examines the role of zinc and selenium in immunomodulatory effects in the treatment of COVID-19. A review of the effects of vitamin D on responses to the influenza vaccine shows a low response to vaccinations for respiratory infections in those with vitamin D deficiency. A quick review of vitamin D and COVID-19 suggests a possible role in the body’s immune response to respiratory viruses.
Experts suggest improving lifestyle and eating nutrient-rich diets to improve immune response. Providing information about COVID-19 vaccines, as well as advice on good diet, is of paramount importance for improved vaccine response and effectiveness.
This article was published for the first time on ORF.
Disclaimer:The author is a Senior Fellow of the ORF Health Initiative. The views expressed are personal.