Nutrient deficiencies worsen flu

While many people take daily vitamin C to help ward off winter colds and flu, recent research shows other nutrients are also critical to keeping healthy during flu season. The University of North Carolina released a startling report indicating that a selenium deficiency can make a flu much worse. They showed that in selenium-deficient mice, the virus mutated into a more powerful virus.

“We believe our latest findings are both important and potentially disturbing because they suggest nutritional deficiencies can promote epidemics in a way not appreciated before,” said the researchers. “Here we looked at flu virus because it hospitalizes more than 100,000 people each year in the United States alone. But what we found conceivably could be true for any RNA virus — cold virus, AIDS virus and Ebola virus.”

While the researchers agreed that most of us are unlikely to be selenium-deficient, they felt the study had significant implications and warranted further research.

At the Scientific and Technical Institute for Foods and Nutrition in France, researchers conducted a study to see what effect long-term supplementation of zinc, selenium, beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E had on the elderly. This randomized, double-blind intervention study was conducted using 725 elderly people from 25 care facilities across France. Patients received a daily supplement of the above nutrients or a placebo for two years. At six months, most patients’ nutritional deficiencies were corrected. At the two-year mark, those taking supplements reported fewer colds and flus.

Sources: J Fed Am Soc Exp Bio, June 8, 2001; Arch Intern Med 1999 Apr 12;159(7):748-54