Most seniors remember grooving to the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive.” And since the COVID-19 pandemic, their focus might have shifted from enjoying the golden years to literally staying alive.   

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults 65 years or older have accounted for eight out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the United States.  

“The immune systems of older adults weaken with age, making it harder to fight off infections,” CDC says. 

While no food can ward off the coronavirus, regular consumption of dairy foods, especially fermented dairy foods, supports immune function and overall metabolic health and may lead to better outcomes for those seniors who do contract the virus. 


Milk’s basic goodness 

Protein intake is important through all phases of illness to protect the body from using muscle stores for energy. An 8-ounce serving of milk contains 8 grams of high-quality protein, or 16% of the Daily Value (DV). Optimal protein intake also supports a healthy weight and good blood glucose control.  

Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, and staying inside might mean seniors are getting less of this nutrient. Low vitamin D levels are associated with increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections, including influenza and allergic asthma. For adults 19 and over, milk is the leading dietary source of vitamin D. 

Zinc is needed for immune cell development and communication and plays an important role in inflammatory response. One cup of low-fat yogurt provides 2.18 milligrams, or 20% of the DV. 


Fermented milks 

Fermenting milk provides additional health benefits. A recent systematic review of 108 studies on fermented milks and health found that “consistent associations exist between fermented milk consumption and reduced risk of … type 2 diabetes, improved weight maintenance, and improved cardiovascular, bone, and gastrointestinal health” ( 

And several probiotics are currently in clinical trials for COVID-19. DSM’s Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) is being trialed in COVID-19-exposed households. Note that in this trial, LGG is being administered as part of a dietary supplement rather than in yogurt.  

Also, three ADM Biopolis probiotic strains are being trialed for COVID-19 patients in hospital care in Spain. Again, the trial uses probiotic supplements rather than yogurt, but these two studies should be of interest to manufacturers of fermented dairy foods. It has been reported that many COVID-19 patients exhibited abnormal changes in their gut microbiome, and one of the core benefits of probiotics is improved diversity and health of the gut microbiome.