Changing the conversation about health

As we await a vaccine, could herbs and spices be an ally in fighting off Covid-19?

While positive news about potential vaccines have offered a chink of light in finding a way to outwit Covid-19, looking to Mother Nature – sunlight, herbs and plants – might help us to improve our resilience in the meantime, say doctors.

Research continues on the role phytochemicals – potent, immune-boosting compounds found naturally in herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables – and the part that they might play.

Previous studies have already proved the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

New research, the Phyto-V study, is currently in progress at Bedford Hospital. The controlled trial is evaluating the influence of a phytochemical-rich whole foods capsule plus a probiotic capsule on clinical outcomes among individuals with Covid-19.

A new study underway at Bedford Hospital examines the role phytochemicals play in helping people with Covid-19 (Credit: Pixabay/miroslavachrienova)

The study’s lead, Professor Rob Thomas, consultant oncologist at Bedfordshire and Cambridge University Hospitals Trusts, thinks herbs and spices could be helpful in ensuring a better response in people infected with Covid-19. Human trials are also examining how phytochemicals might help prevent individuals from catching the virus.He told MailOnline: “The majority of people seriously affected by Covid have co-existing conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes or being overweight, which are usually rooted in poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.

“So it makes sense to investigate how lifestyle changes can help to improve our immunity and ability to fight back against infection.

“So it makes sense to investigate how lifestyle changes can help to improve our immunity and ability to fight back against infection.

“Laboratory studies investigating a range of herbs and plants have also reported potential direct anti-viral properties.

Dr Rob Thomas, consultant oncologist leading trials into phytochemicals and Covid-19 at Bedford Hospital

Phytochemicals have been shown to improve gut health; an unhealthy diet rich in sugar and meat is linked to poor gut health, which can negatively affect how the immune system fights infections.

Last month, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed he supports people taking vitamin D, amid growing evidence that those who are deficient in the ‘sunshine vitamin’ fare worse when infected with Covid-19.

The College of Medicine has long advocated taking Vitamin D to boost general health.

Herbs and spices commonly found in a healthy diet, including turmeric (pictured), could prove a valuable source in helping gut health, which improves the body’s immune system
 Read our guide to 16 of the best health-giving herbs

Mr Hancock said: “I have asked the scientists to look once again at the impact of vitamin D on resistance to immunity. There has been some updated evidence that has come to light in the last few weeks and I want to make sure this is fully taken into account.”

He added he would be “increasing the public messaging around vitamin D to make sure that people get the message that vitamin D can help with your broad health and that there is no downside to taking it – and therefore people should consider that.”

The College of Medicine Chair, Dr Michael Dixon, said at the time: “We’re pleased to see the position long held by the College of Medicine on Vitamin D is now being supported by Government and the Secretary of State.”

In September, a new study added further evidence that being deficient in vitamin D could leave people at greater risk of catching Covid-19.

In October, Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week told Parliment that the Government would be increasing public messaging around the benefits of taking vitamin D (Credit: pixabay)

Researchers at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Inflammation and Ageing examined NHS staff who’d tested positive for the virus while working at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, which cared for a huge amount of patients with coronavirus at the pandemic’s height.


  • Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because natural daylight is the easiest way for humans to absorb it
  • Few food groups are rich in vitamin D but oily fish, egg yolks and mushrooms are among those foods
  • The NHS defines deficiency as anything below 25 ng/mL with adaquate levels around 50 ng/mL

The study found that 72 per cent of those workers, which included staff from all major departments of the hospital including junior doctors, physiotherapists, and secretaries, who were found to carry Covid-19 SARS-CoV-2 antibodies also had low vitamin D levels.

Research has already shown that the vitamin, often called the ‘sunshine vitamin’, can help protect against the common cold and offer a boost to the immune system. Adequate levels of the vitamin are usually considered over 50 ng/mL, with the NHS defining low levels at under 25ng/mL.

Just 51 per cent of staff who had adequate amounts of vitamin D tested positive for antibodies. The difference was greater amongst employees from Black, Asian or ethnic minorities (BAME), who are more susceptible to a vitamin D deficiency because darker skin makes it harder to absorb it from the sun.