Children and Covid-19: are vitamins and supplements really needed?

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In recent months, thanks to the fear of the new coronavirus, purchases of vitamins and supplements have skyrocketed. In fact, since the pandemic broke out, the hunt for best product to "strengthen" the immune defenses and to protect yourself from infection.

Among the many news circulated on the net, and not only, there are some that have highlighted the beneficial effects of vitamin C, vitamin D and lactoferrin against the new coronavirus.

By now we know: mask, social distancing and hand hygiene are the basic rules to follow to avoid contagion from Sars-Cov-2, but it is not so easy to comply perfectly with the directions with children, especially if they are still small. For this reason, some parents have decided to rely on vitamins and supplements thinking, or hoping, that they have gods benefits on the immune system of children and that they could therefore protect them from infection.

Of course, substances such as vitamin C and vitamin D are very important for the development of children and for the immune system, as is lactoferrin in infants. But what do we know about their role against Covid-19? Let's try to take stock of the situation.

In this article

  • vitamin C and Covid-19: what we know
  • what is vitamin C for in children
  • where vitamin C is found
  • when to take a vitamin C supplement
  • vitamin D and Covid-19: what we know
  • what is vitamin D for in children
  • where vitamin D is found
  • when to take a vitamin D supplement
  • lactoferrin and Covid-19: what we know
  • lactoferrin for babies
  • other supplements against Covid-19
  • how to really support the immune system

Vitamin C and Covid-19: what we know

Let's make an important premise immediately: vitamin C is a very important micronutrient for the health of children and adults. At the moment, however, scientific studies state that there is no valid evidence to demonstrate a relationship between vitamin C supplementation and the prevention or treatment of Covid-19, as also confirmed by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità. Moreover, the population of the Paesena does not have particular deficiencies of vitamin C, also because this substance is present in many foods that we usually consume in our country. One more reason for not resorting, especially when it is not necessary, to the integration of this substance.

The hypothetical link with the coronavirus had been hypothesized due to one of the functions performed by vitamin C, namely that of acting as an indispensable cofactor for regulate the immune system, but from here it is a long step to say that the vitamin cures or prevents Covid-19.

Although a cause-and-effect relationship has been ruled out by scholars, there are a thousand other good reasons why ensure that the little ones have an adequate dose of vitamin C through the power supply.

What is vitamin C used for in children

Vitamin C is very famous for its antioxidant properties which slow down and prevent the aging of cells and serves our body to synthesize the collagen that we find in the skin, bones and joints. Vitamin C then contributes to the correct wound healing, promotes the absorption of iron present in foods of plant origin and, finally, is important for the functioning of the immune system.

Just as vitamin C does not prevent Covid-19 it doesn't even prevent colds, as demonstrated by a systematic review of the scientific literature. Simply, and this only applies to colds, in those who take the right doses of vitamin C daily, it has been observed that the duration of the cold is shorter, even if only slightly.

A vitamin C deficiency in children and adults it can cause fatigue, joint pain, muscle pain, but also more serious problems if the deficiency is strong.

To avoid a vitamin C deficiency it is necessary to give to children a good amount of fruit and vegetables. If the child really does not want to know, try to entice him with some particular preparation, but remember to never miss vegetables (and fruit) on the plate during meals, if you eliminate them the child will think "I was right, you don't need to eat them ".

Where is vitamin C found?

We can find vitamin C especially in fruits and vegetables such as:

  • citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, mandarins);
  • Kiwi;
  • raw peppers, rocket, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes;
  • legumes: raw beans and peas

So just follow a varied and balanced diet to guarantee children a right amount of vitamin C. But pay attention to cooking food which can cause you to lose up to 70% of the vitamin contained in them.

Don't be afraid to run into one excess of vitamin C through diet. In the rare cases where an excess occurs, this is mostly due to the wrong use of supplements.

When to take a vitamin C supplement

Children should only take one supplement when the pediatrician has determined that there is a deficiency or when you are sure that your diet is not balanced. Although vitamin C can be purchased without a prescription, it does not therefore mean that it should be taken without much hesitation.

Vitamin D and Covid-19: what we know

What has been said so far for vitamin C, also applies to vitamin D: at the moment no relationship has been scientifically verified between vitamin D supplementation and the prevention or treatment of Covid-19. At the moment there are only hypotheses which will need to be verified.

In fact, we do not yet know if a vitamin D deficiency can make children and adults more exposed to Sars-Cov-2 infection. What has already been shown is that thehypovitaminosis D, i.e. the deficiency of this vitamin, is associated with an increase in infections, including viral ones.

We also know that vitamin D is useful in the prevention and treatment of upper respiratory tract infections, such as the flu.

At the moment, we can only say that this vitamin is able to support our immune system, making it more prepared for a possible external attack, but we cannot claim that vitamin D acts against the coronavirus.

Even the Istituto Superiore di Sanità has specified that vitamin D does not prevent Covid, but at most it could alleviate some symptoms such as anosmia and ageusia, respectively the loss of smell and taste.

Finally, the first study that evaluated the relationship between vitamin D and Sars-Cov-2 infection in the pediatric population was recently published in Pediatric Pulmonology. Despite the scholars have found lower vitamin D levels in children with Covid-19, they say it is still early to establish a cause-and-effect link between the two factors and that further studies on children will be needed.

What is vitamin D used for in children

Vitamin D is essential forcalcium absorption and for its deposit in the bones, but not only, the most recent studies seem to indicate an important role also in the functioning of the immune system.

Where is vitamin D found

Vitamin D is the most particular of the vitamins because its intake is limited to the diet. The food sources richer in vitamin D are oily fish, salmon, eggs, avocado and green leafy vegetables, but through nutrition we can provide children (and also for us adults) only a small dose of this vitamin , between 10 and 20% about.

To have an adequate dose of vitamin D we must expose ourselves to natural light daily, trying to be outdoors for at least 15/30 minutes, so that our body synthesizes the vitamin in the skin. This certainly does not mean leaving the children in the sun in the summer without sun protection, a mistake to never make, but simply trying to let them spend some time outside the home, perhaps taking a nice walk to the playground.

Read also: Vitamin D and children

When to take a vitamin D supplement

Vitamin D supplementation in children is recommended by national and international guidelines only in the first 12 months of the baby's life, at a dosage of 400 IU per day, while after the completion of the first year of age the supplement concerns only some categories at risk.

Lactoferrin and Covid-19: what we know

The lactoferrin supplement was one of the best sellers during the pandemic, so much so that pharmacies were stormed. The hypothesis that lactoferrin could serve to prevent Covid-19 and speed up its recovery had started from a study by the Tor Vergata University of the city. However, the research soon showed its limitations, especially as regards the methodology used by the researchers.

The scholars started from an observation: newborns are one of the categories least affected by Covid-19 and they are also those with the highest levels of lactoferrin. They then thought that lactoferrin could regulate the inflammatory response of the immune system and that, by transporting the iron, it helped to inhibit the entry of the virus into the cells.

The study was conducted on a limited number of patients Covid-19 positive with mild and asymptomatic symptoms by administering a lactoferrin supplement for 30 days. It was observed that in 31% of cases after 15 days the patients recovered (negative swab). But the scientific literature already claimed that the course of the disease in people with mild or symptom-free symptoms occurs within two weeks. They didn't even create a control group of virus-positive people taking a no-effect substance (placebo). The reason why the validity of the study was questioned by numerous scientists.

Also for lactoferrin, therefore, we arrive at the same conclusion: there is no evidence that highlights its role in the prevention and treatment of Covid-19.

However, it remains a very important substance for newborns, let's see why.

Lactoferrin for newborns

Lactoferrin is a glycoprotein found in breast milk, particularly in colostrum, and is one of the most precious gifts a mother can give to her child while breastfeeding. She is known for hers antimicrobial action and because it protects babies from gastrointestinal infections. In the newborn, lactoferrin promotes the development of beneficial intestinal bacteria that help prevent colic, but not only that, it also helps protect him from infections since his immune system is still quite weak.

Read also: Lactoferrin: an important ally for newborns, but not against Covid-19

The other supplements against Covid-19

We have so far taken stock of the situation on the "remedies" against Covid-19 that have been most talked about in recent months, but the list of products sponsored by some doctors or pharmacists is really long.

Precisely for this reason, the Istituto Superiore di Sanità has drawn up a report on the conscious use of supplements in times of Covid.

Often, food supplements and products based on plant extracts are advertised and sold with the aim of improve or boost the immune system, but the scientific evidence leaves much to be desired. In fact, according to what is stated in the ISS report, these preparations would not have no proven use for the treatment and prevention of Covid-19.

The Istituto Superiore di Sanità advises to be wary especially of those supplements sold online that promise miraculous effects on health, and remember that before taking any dietary supplement it is always a good idea consult your doctor or pediatrician in the case of children, also to avoid any interactions with other drugs.

A similar argument applies not only to vitamin food supplements, but also to minerals such as magnesium, zinc and selenium proposed for the prevention or treatment of Sars-Cov-2 infection. Again there is no scientific evidence.

The ISS report concludes with the most important recommendation: supplements should not be taken for prolonged periods of time, nor in doses higher than those indicated and above all "they should never be understood as substitutes for a varied and balanced diet".

Even the recently published ministerial guidelines on home management of Covid-19 patients reiterate that at the moment there is no scientific evidence oneffectiveness of vitamin supplements and supplements, which is why the use of vitamins, lactoferrin and the like is not recommended for the treatment of Covid patients.

So what can we do to "strengthen" the immune system of young and old?

How to really support the immune system

To ensure the right support for our immune system, it is first of all necessary to provide it with all nutrients it needs. We must therefore make sure to introduce with the power, but not only, precious vitamins and minerals for our well-being.

According to the guidelines CREATE a regular consumption (the famous 5 portions) of fruit and vegetables, as part of a varied and balanced diet, is adequate to support our immunitary defense. The World Health Organization also wanted to reiterate the importance of one healthy eating to "strengthen" the immune system of children and has created a special guide containing some valuable advice on feeding children during the pandemic.

Finally, also in the review Dietary recommendations during the Covid-19 pandemic, which examined the recommendations from various bodies including the Del Paesena Society of Human Nutrition and the Del Paesena Society of Neonatology it is concluded that:

  • key nutrients for the immune system can be obtained through food, especially from fresh fruit and vegetables;
  • there are no known supplements that can prevent Covid-19, but some of them may be useful for populations at risk of deficiency;
  • Breastfeeding helps the baby's immune system, thus protecting it from viruses and bacteria.

  • coronavirus
  • immune system
  • Vitamins
  • supplements
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