5 surprising things that may help protect against COVID-19

Masks, social distancing and hand washing are the first lines of defence against COVID-19.  But in the search for a cure, there have been some interesting findings about factors that increase and decrease infection rates of the virus, and also what lessens the severity of symptoms.

As this form of the coronavirus hasn’t been with us for very long, it's not possible to draw definitive conclusions. However, some intriguing research may give us clues about strategies to keep us healthy.

Here are five of the more surprising things that may protect against COVID-19.

1. Taking a daily low-dose aspirin

This won’t stop you getting COVID-19, but one study indicates it provides some protection to your health if you do. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) looked at 412 patient and noted that hospitalised COVID-19 patients who were taking a daily low-dose aspirin to protect against cardiovascular disease had a significantly lower risk of complications compared to those who were not taking aspirin. Those taking the aspirin were less likely to be placed in the intensive care unit (ICU) or hooked up to a mechanical ventilator. They were were 47% less likely to die compared to other patients not taking aspirin. However, it's important you talk to your doctor or health provider to check taking aspirin is right for you. Some people can't take it, as it can up the risks of serious bleeding, such as bleeding of blood vessels in the brain or gut.  

Please note: Do not take aspirin or other painkillers when having your COVID-19 vaccine unless advised by a doctor. Medications may affect antibody responses to the jab.

2. Sunshine

The connection between vitamin D (which sunlight helps our bodies produce) and protection against COVID-19 is hotly debated. But the latest research from Marqués de Valdecilla University Hospital veers strongly towards its protective effects. In the research, it was found that 82% of 216 COVID-19 patients were deficient in vitamin D, which could go some way to explaining the virus's devastating effects March 2020. Between October and April in the UK we cannot get adequate amounts of vitamin D from the sun and it is now well known that many of us are deficient. Supplementation during the winter months has been shown to improve mood and is recommended as adequate vitamin D cannot be obtained from food alone. 

3. Wearing glasses

It’s become increasingly clear that wearing masks can lessen the chance of being infected with COVID-19 and mitigate against the severity of the illness – its believed masks reduce the viral load, allowing the body more time to build up an immune response. But what about glasses? The eyes are also a potential route for the virus to infect us. Should we be shielding our eyes too?  Scientists in China wanted to find out how glasses-wearing impacts COVID-19 risk. They looked data from 276 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 in Suizhou, China, from January to March this year to see how many wore glasses. Their small study found that only 16 (5.8 percent) of the 276 patients admitted with COVID-19 wore glasses for more than eight hours a day. All these patients were short-sighted, so researchers checked the proportion of people with myopia (short-sightedness) in local area, which was found this to be much larger (31.5 percent), indicating that the proportion of short-sighted COVID-19 hospital admissions was over five times lower than might be expected from that population. Doctors warn that this study is small, but it does seem to indicate that covering your eyes gives greater protections against infection. 

4. Nicotine

This one is controversial, but some researchers believe smokers are less likely to contract COVID-19. We all know that smoking is bad for your wellbeing – and your respiratory health, in particular. So, this is counter-intuitive, and more importantly, taking up smoking is not recommended. But a study from the University of Utah of 90,000 people has found that smokers were 23 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 compared to non-smokers. Of those who were diagnosed, smokers were six per cent less likely to be admitted for hospital care compared to non-smokers. The study was a joint investigation by scientists in Mexico, Greece and the US, led by Dr Theodoros Giannouchos. So why does this happen? Jean-Pierre Changeux at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, believes that nicotine lowers the amount of a molecule on lung cells called ACE2, which the coronavirus uses to gain entry. However, other reports contradicts the research and suggests that smoking is also more common among people who get sickest and die. This is hard to explain if nicotine really protects against the coronavirus. Our verdict? The risks of smoking-related deaths will still outweigh any protective effects. It’s not worth lighting up.

5. Keeping your vaccinations up to date

As we all wait for the world to be released from the crisis of COVID-19 with a dedicated vaccine, some doctors and scientists point to the fact that existing vaccinations offer some protection. The flu vaccination, for example. Two studies from Milan University and Sao Paulo University carried out in Italy and Brazil, involving more than 100,000 people, found the flu vaccine reduced the number of patients being admitted to hospital from COVID-19. The researchers are urging government around the world to encourage people to pursue a flu vaccine sooner, rather than later. Individuals who have had the BCG jab may also have some protection against the virus.  The vaccine was designed to stop tuberculosis, but there is some evidence it can protect against other infections as well. The vaccination heightens the response to other infections and scientists hope it may even give our bodies an advantage against coronavirus.

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