Serhat Ünal

Speech Title: Nutrition, immune function and health in the time of COVID 19

Hacettepe University Faculty of Medicine, Head of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology Department and Director of Vaccine Institute

Dr. Serhat ÜNAL graduated from Hacettepe University Faculty of Medicine in 1981. He received specialization training in Internal Diseases (1981-1985) and infectious diseases (1989-1990) in Hacettepe University Faculty of Medicine. Dr. Ünal also received a specialty training in Infectious Diseases (1990-1992) at the Department of Internal Medicine at the United States Harvard Medical School New England Deaconess Hospital.

Dr. Unal, between the years 1987-1989 Hacettepe University Medical School Cubuk Health Group Deputy Chief of Training and Research Hospital, Family Planning Association of Turkey and the European Community between 1995-1998. AIDS: Senior Policy and Decision Bodies Initiative Project Consultant, European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases «Nosocomial Infections Working Group» between 2003-2007, EFIM Congress Organization Committee Chairman and Congress Chairman in 2009.

Dr. Ünal served as the Deputy Dean of Faculty of Medicine at Hacettepe University between 1996-2000, and served as the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the same university between 2006-2011.

Dr. Ünal is the founding president of the Turkish Hospital Infections Association founded in 2000. In addition, in 2010, he was elected as the president of the Turkish Internal Diseases Specialization Association. Between 2001-2013, he served as the head of Hacettepe University Faculty of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine. Since 2013, he has been appointed as the Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology and still continues this duty. Founded in 2018, he is still working as the Director of Hacettepe University Vaccine Institute.

Dr. Ünal started to work as an associate professor in the Department of Internal Diseases, Hacettepe University Faculty of Medicine in 1989 and received the title of Professor in 1995. His research interests include resistance mechanisms to different antibiotics in Gram-positive bacteria, the use of molecular biology techniques in the diagnosis of infectious diseases, and HIV infection.

Dr. Ünal was selected as the “Fellow” of the American College of Physicians in 2010 and the Royal Collage of Physicians in 2017. İhsan Doğramacı Award; Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, Scotland (1980), Eczacıbaşı Medicine Encouragement Award (1995), TUBITAK Medicine Incentive Award (1996), Voluntary Organizations Women’s Health Commission (KASAKOM) – Millennium Volunteers Outstanding Service Award (for her work in the field of HIV / AIDS (2002), Rotary Award for Successful Man of the Year (2006) and The Centenary Medal of Polish Society of Internal Medicine, Poland (2008).


The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) causes Coronavirus Disease of 2019 (COVID-19), which is the third major coronavirus (CoV) pandemic in recent history. COVID-19 had caused about 500 million cases and 6 million mortalities worldwide by May 2022, according to the Worldometer website. Although vaccines for COVİD -19 do not prevent the transmission, they are effective for prevention of severe disease and death. Whilst there are some antiviral medications that has been proven to reduce mortality, there is still a need for evidence-based treatment modalities for SARS-CoV

Malnutrition is an independent predictor of a longer hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) stay and higher hospital mortality in COVID-19. Nutritional supplements may help COVID-19 patients, according to the latest research. Higher-than-recommended daily dosages of minerals such as vitamins D, C, E, Zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce SARS-CoV-2 virus load and hospitalization time. The antioxidant and immunomodulatory activities of these nutrients are well-known. Immune dysfunction and increased vulnerability to infectious diseases can occur when certain nutrients are deficient. Micronutrients are essential for maintaining the integrity and permeability of cellular membranes, particularly in the alveolar epithelial barrier of the lungs. The epithelium barrier’s tight connections are broken during some viral infections. As a result, micronutrients are deemed essential since they aid in maintaining the epithelial barrier’s integrity. Micronutrients protect cells from the harmful effects of oxidative agents. The availability of specific micronutrients is required at every step of the immune response. Vitamins A, B12, C, D, E, folic acid, and minerals including iron, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and copper are essential for cell-mediated innate immunity, complement activation, and proinflammatory cytokines. Omega-3 fatty acid metabolites have an anti-inflammatory effect and are implicated in stimulating natural killer cells.  

Despite the above-mentioned basic science data, micronutrient supplementation, such as vitamin C, D, and zinc, did not lower mortality and vitamin C did not reduce the risk of intubation or the length of hospital stay in COVID-19 patients in different clinical trials.  In only one study vitamin D supplementation was linked to a lower intubation rate and a shorter hospital stay. However, more research is needed to understand better the clinical importance of these particular micronutrient supplementations in SARS-CoV-2 infection patients.