Essential metals, vitamins and antioxidant enzyme activities in COVID-19 patients and their potential associations with the disease severity

Biometals. 2022 Jan 7;1-21. doi: 10.1007/s10534-021-00355-4. Online ahead of print.


The role of micronutrient deficiency in the pathogenesis of COVID-19 has been reviewed in the literature; however, the data are limited and conflicting. This study investigated the association between the status of essential metals, vitamins, and antioxidant enzyme activities in COVID-19 patients and disease severity. We recruited 155 patients, who were grouped into four classes based on the Adults guideline for the Management of Coronavirus Disease 2019 at King Faisal Specialist & Research Centre (KFSH&RC): asymptomatic (N = 16), mild (N = 49), moderate (N = 68), and severe (N = 22). We measured serum levels of copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), selenium (Se), vitamin D3, vitamin A, vitamin E, total antioxidant capacity, and superoxide dismutase (SOD). Among the patients, 30%, 25%, 37%, and 68% were deficient in Se (< 70.08 µg/L), Zn (< 0.693 µg/mL), vitamin A (< 0.343 µg/mL), and vitamin D3 (< 20.05 µg/L), respectively, and SOD activity was low. Among the patients, 28% had elevated Cu levels (> 1.401 µg/mL, KFSH&RC upper reference limit). Multiple regression analysis revealed an 18% decrease in Se levels in patients with severe symptoms, which increased to 30% after adjusting the model for inflammatory markers. Regardless of inflammation, Se was independently associated with COVID-19 severity. In contrast, a 50% increase in Cu levels was associated with disease severity only after adjusting for C-reactive protein, reflecting its possible inflammatory and pro-oxidant role in COVID-19 pathogenesis. We noted an imbalance in the ratio between Cu and Zn, with ~ 83% of patients having a Cu/Zn ratio > 1, which is an indicator of inflammation. Cu-to-Zn ratio increased to 45% in patients with mild symptoms and 34%-36% in patients with moderate symptoms compared to asymptomatic patients. These relationships were only obtained when one of the laboratory parameters (lymphocyte or monocyte) or inflammatory markers (neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio) was included in the regression model. These findings suggest that Cu/Zn might further exacerbate inflammation in COVID-19 patients and might be synergistically associated with disease severity. A 23% decrease in vitamin A was seen in patients with severe symptoms, which disappeared after adjusting for inflammatory markers. This finding may highlight the potential role of inflammation in mediating the relationship between COVID-19 severity and vitamin A levels. Despite our patients' low status of Zn, vitamin D3, and antioxidant enzyme (SOD), there is no evidence of their role in COVID-19 progression. Our findings reinforce that deficiency or excess of certain micronutrients plays a role in the pathogenesis of COVID-19. More studies are required to support our results.

Keywords: Antioxidant activity; COVID-19; Disease severity; Essential metals; Vitamins.