Chemicals in spices, fruits and vegetables may help prevent Covid-19
Researchers are studying whether phytochemicals found in fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices may help against the coronavirus.
There is already much evidence to suggest that vitamin D can help protect against Covid-19, with studies revealing that people who lack the so-called ‘sunshine vitamin’ are more likely to become seriously ill if they became infected with the virus.
The largest trial of this type, the Phyto-V study, is now under way at Bedford Hospital, in England, led by Professor Robert Thomas.
It examines several phytochemicals, including hesperetin (found in citrus fruits), catechin, and quercetin (in pomegranate), aloe emodin (in aloe vera), curcuminoids (in turmeric) and apigenin (in chamomile tea).
In lab and animal trials conducted during the SARS outbreak in 2003, these were shown to reduce the virus’s ability to replicate and penetrate cells. Now, the Phyto-V trial is comparing the outcome of Covid-19 patients given these phytochemicals as a supplement with others given a placebo.
Patients will take the supplement for at least a month and will be monitored until their symptoms disappear. For people with ‘long Covid’ this could be around three months. The study is still recruiting volunteers and results are expected next year.
Similar studies using minerals and other phytochemicals are under way in India, Spain and the Middle East.
"Supplements made from concentrated phytochemicals are safe, can be developed rapidly and are readily available,’" says Prof Thomas.
Human trials are also looking at whether phytochemicals can reduce the chance of catching Covid-19 in the first place.
Key to the research is the fact that a diet high in meat and sugary foods and which does not contain enough phytochemicals is linked to poor gut health, and this can have an impact on the overall immune system.
On the other hand, a diet rich in phytochemicals – responsible for giving fruit, vegetables, spices and herbs their flavours and colours – has been shown to improve gut health, so improving immunity.
Scientists in Malaga, Spain, are also studying how a twice-weekly, 50-minute programme of strength and aerobic exercises can enhance recovery from the coronavirus.
The push is important as recent studies have found the pandemic has led to weight gain and an increase in sedentary lifestyles.