Separating Fact from Fiction

There’s so much information (and misinformation) out there about COVID-19 that it’s becoming mind-boggling even for me – everything from supplements and dietary recommendations to the latest medical treatments purported to treat the coronavirus. In the first of a series of blogs I will be posting, here are three of the common ‘myths’ that are currently in circulation, reviewed from the perspective of scientific evidence base.

There’s no evidence that Vitamin C can prevent or treat coronavirus

While there’s minimal published data on COVID-19 given the novelty of this virus, there is plenty of evidence on the impact of vitamin C on the common cold and how deficiency can be associated with respiratory illnesses like pneumonia (here’s just one example). There are more than 400 published articles on PubMed on vitamin C interventions for viral conditions.

As mentioned in my previous blog, seriously ill coronavirus patients in New York’s largest hospital system are being given massive doses of vitamin C. Dr. Andrew G. Weber, a pulmonologist and critical-care specialist indicated that his intensive care patients who test positive for COVID-19 immediately receive 1,500 milligrams of intravenous vitamin C which are then re-administered 3-4 times a day. Dr. Weber claims that the patients who received vitamin C did significantly better than those who did not get vitamin C.  He quotes, “It helps a tremendous amount, but it is not highlighted because it’s not a sexy drug.”  He also noted that this protocol is based on experimental treatments administered to people with the coronavirus in China.

Additionally, a recently published study in the Journal of Intensive Care has shown that intravenous vitamin C may reduce ventilation time for critically ill patients.

My advice – eat lots of foods that are rich in vitamin C (check out my webinar on the list of foods that are high in vitamin C foods) and if you want to boost your levels, try these supplement recommendations.

Does UV kill coronavirus?

The short answer is “it depends” but before you run outside to get some sun rays, read on. Ultraviolet light (UV) is a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths (10nm-400nm) that are shorter than that of visible light. Within this range, there are three subcategories: UVA, UVB and UVC.

UVC light is commonly used for industrial germicidal purposes and can be used to disinfect surfaces, odors, and allergens BUT it is extremely harmful to the human body. I would urge CAUTION if you are looking to purchase a UVC germicidal lamp or air purifier; only use it when you are not in the room/house as it can burn your eyes in less than a minute.  By the way, I had a UV lamp installed in our storage closet at our beach home where mold has been a big problem due to constant moisture BUT it is only turned on when the closet is not in use.  

Interesting latest research: It is known that within this UV spectrum, the UVA light causes the least damage to mammalian cells. In a 2019 study in the United European Gastroenterology Journal (“Internally Applied Ultraviolet Light as a Novel Approach for Effective and Safe Anti-Microbial Treatment”), the authors have demonstrated that UVA phototherapy is an effective antimicrobial treatment on internal organs while avoiding endoscopic injury.  There was a recent press release by Aytu BioScience about their agreement with Cedars-Sinai Hospital to license this phototherapy as studies conducted to date have deemed it effective on coronavirus patients. Please note that this is not yet FDA approved (although this is now being expedited due to initial results) and can only be administered by a trained clinician. 

My advice – enjoy your time outside to get those vitamin D levels up and if you feel the compulsion, consider a UV lamp/purifier in the house but beware of broad claims of UV killing coronavirus as ‘it depends’. And if you’re enjoying the sun, consider long-lasting, broad-spectrum protecting sunscreens. Check out on what to look for when purchasing sunscreens, and here are a couple of product recommendation:

Are fresh fruits and vegetables always more nutritious than frozen or canned?

The ideal scenario for all of us is to have our own garden where we are eating the food the moment it’s picked. As fresh produce (especially vitamin C) starts to lose their nutritional value once picked, it is best to eat at the ‘point of harvest’. If you are like me, the idea of a backyard garden sounds romantic but it’ll be a long time until this becomes a reality (i.e. when I retire and have ample time to tend to it).

A study conducted by a food science and technology researcher at the University of California, Davis reviewed the nutritional content of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables and this is what she found:

  • Spinach, for example, lost 100% of its vitamin C content in seven days if stored at a room temperature of 20C (68F); it lost 75% if refrigerated. Spinach is thin so there’s more exposure to heat and oxygen.
  • Carrots only lost 27% of their vitamin C content when stored for a week at room temperature.
  • When frozen, all vegetables lost significantly less vitamin C including spinach, which only lost 30% of its vitamin C. Freezing ceases the oxidation process and prevents ‘browning’ of the produce after harvest.
  • Speed freezing on a mass scale is now being widely used in the food industry and vegetables like peas can be picked, washed, blanched, and frozen in less than 3 hours. That preserves the fresh-picked nutrients longer than if it was consumed fresh from the local supermarket. However, much of the produce is blanched – quick heating at high temperatures to inactivate unwanted enzymes that degrade color and texture while frozen.  This will also reduce the nutrient content.
  • Canned foods are heated more intensely to guarantee preservation and long shelf life.  This study showed that foods with more fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin A and E, found in carrots and tomatoes, survived better during heat treatment. Please note that canned foods often have added salt and/or sugar so make sure to read labels carefully and also look for non-BPA lined cans.
  • Buying local and organic when possible is the closest substitute to your own garden. This study shows that organic produce has a higher amount of antioxidants than conventional vegetables. 

My advice – Eat locally grown fresh produce or from your garden if you can but the most important thing to remember is that regardless of how it’s packaged, they all count towards your daily serving of fruits and vegetables.

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