Republished from ConsumerLab.com
Many supplements and natural or other alternative treatments are being promoted to prevent or treat coronavirus (COVID-19). None have been proven to work, but some have potential benefit.
Here’s what you need to know, and we’ve grouped these approaches in the following categories:
Of course, the most important thing you can do to avoid infection with coronavirus is to prevent exposure by following the latest recommendations of the CDC and World Health Organization and take steps to stay healthy, including getting adequate sleep and exercise and eating a healthful diet that includes adequate (but not excessive) intakes of essential nutrients, such as vitamins C and D, as described below. Also take steps to control hypertension and blood sugar fluctuations with diabetes, as these conditions are associated with more severe disease if infected.
Vitamin and minerals that can help with coronavirus if you’re not getting enough
Vitamin C is vital to the function of leukocytes (white blood cells that help to fight infections) and overall immune system health. Vitamin C is also important for iron absorption, and being deficient in iron can make you more vulnerable to infections in general.
However, even for viruses like colds, the evidence that vitamin C supplements can help is modest at best: Taking high-dose vitamin C (e.g., 500 mg twice daily) before getting a cold may slightly reduce the severity and duration of a cold, but, there is inconclusive evidence as to whether taking vitamin C will help after cold symptoms develop. (The normal, recommended daily intake of vitamin C for adults from the diet and/or supplements is 75 to 120 mg. You can get about 80 to 90 mg from a cup of orange juice or sliced orange, or even more from a cup of sweet peppers, tomato juice, or cut kiwi fruit).
There is no evidence that taking a vitamin C supplement, even at high doses, can protect people from infection from coronaviruses. This strategy is being promoted on various websites and in videos on YouTube. For example, one video recommended taking a daily dose of 5,000 mg of vitamin C. It has since been removed for violating YouTube’s community guidelines (likely as part of an effort by YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites to eliminate misinformation about COVID-19 online, although new posts and promotions for fake coronavirus cures and scams seem to appear daily). High doses of vitamin C, given intravenously, are currently being tested in COVID-19 patients in China who have developed pneumonia, but the benefit of this approach has yet to be proven.
Be aware that there are side effects and risks associated with taking high doses of vitamin C. People sometimes assume there is no harm in taking large doses because vitamin C is water-soluble (i.e. excess vitamin C is excreted from the body), but this is not the case. In addition to causing gastric distress and diarrhea, high doses of vitamin C over the long-term may increase the risk of cataracts. High-dose vitamin C can also reduce the effectiveness of certain medications and interfere with certain blood tests.
There are many vitamin C supplements on the market. ConsumerLab has tested many of these and has found several to contain almost 50% more vitamin C than listed on the label (potentially increasing the risk of adverse effects).
Vitamin D supplements, taken daily in moderate doses, may help to reduce the risk of respiratory infections and viruses such as influenza A in children and adults who are deficient (< 20 ng/mL) or severely deficient (< 10 ng/mL) in vitamin D.
Although there is not currently any research suggesting vitamin D supplements decrease the risk of coronavirus infection specifically, maintaining an adequate blood level of vitamin D (20 to 30 ng/mL — although best not to exceed 39 ng/mL) by getting proper sun exposure (at least three times a week for about 30 minutes exposing your hands, arms, legs, and face), consuming vitamin D-fortified products (such as most milks, certain other dairy foods and some plant-based milks), or taking a vitamin D supplement is a good, safe, preventative measure for protecting against respiratory infections in general. To maintain healthy levels, only 400 to 800 IU (15 to 20 mcg) of vitamin D is required daily, but, to boost low levels, higher doses, such as 2,000 IU daily, are used and are generally safe. Very large doses, which have been taken periodically (such as 100,000 IU taken monthly) may not be as helpful and could even increase the risk of respiratory infections in some people.
Zinc (and Selenium) Pills and Liquids
Supplementing with zinc (such as with regular tablets) would not benefit most people unless they are deficient in zinc, which is more common in elderly people due to reduced zinc absorption. In such people, supplementing with zinc (e.g. 20 mg per day) may improve the chance of avoiding respiratory tract infection, as suggested by a study of elderly people in nursing facilities in France. (People in that study were also deficient in selenium — which is uncommon in the U.S. — and were given 100 mcg per day, which is about twice the daily requirement.) Others who may be low in zinc include vegetarians and people taking certain medications, such as those that reduce stomach acid and ACE inhibitors, on a long-term basis. The daily requirement for zinc varies by age, but, for adults, is about 11 mg.
Supplements that may possibly help reduce symptoms of coronavirus
Two researchers have highlighted preliminary research on the anti-viral effects of lauric acid, found in coconut oil, and the metabolite of lauric acid — monolaurin. They have proposed a clinical trial using virgin coconut oil (3 tablespoons daily), monolaurin (800 mg daily), and/or monocaprin (800 mg daily) in patients with COVID-19. Their suggestion was published on the Integrated Chemists of the Philippines website. They note that coconut oil, lauric acid, and monolaurin have been used to help prevent viruses in farm animals, and two small trials in people with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) given coconut oil showed some improvements in immune system blood cell counts. However, there is no evidence to date that consuming coconut oil can prevent or treat coronavirus infections in people.
There are many coconut oils on the market and ConsumerLab has tested several popular brands. Note that large amounts of lauric acid were found only in coconut oils that have not been refined, such as several virgin and extra virgin coconut oils, while refined coconut oils do not contain much lauric acid, and MCT oils contain virtually no lauric acid (they are mainly caprylic and/or capric acids).
Turmeric and Curcumin
Turmeric and curcumin (a major constituent of turmeric) are best known for their modest anti-inflammatory effects. Curcumin has also been shown to inhibit certain viruses in laboratory studies, including a study published online (but not in a peer-reviewed journal) suggesting that curcumin may inhibit the virus that causes COVID-19. In animal studies, curcumin injections have been shown to protect the lungs from injury and infection, including viral-induced acute respiratory distress syndrome, possibly by reducing inflammatory cytokines and other mechanisms. However, there are no studies in people showing that turmeric or curcumin supplements can prevent or reduce the symptoms of viral infections such as colds, the flu, or COVID-19.
The maker of an intravenous form of liposomal curcumin indicated in March 2020 that it is “exploring opportunities” to utilize its product in patients with COVID-19. This formula has been investigated in at least one clinical trial in patients with advanced metastatic cancer, but be aware that some intravenous turmeric treatments have been associated with serious side effects.
Be aware that only a small percentage of curcumin taken orally is absorbed. Taking these supplements with food can improve absorption, and there are a number of formulations on the market to increase the bioavailability of curcumin from supplements. Turmeric and curcumin, as well as black pepper extract — a type of bioavailability enhancer, can interact with many medications.
Studies in laboratories (but not in people) have shown that certain species of echinacea may inhibit coronaviruses. However, there is no evidence at this time that taking this or any other echinacea product can prevent or treat coronavirus infections in people.
A laboratory study that has not yet been peer-reviewed or published found that a particular branded form of echinacea inhibited specific coronaviruses, including (HCoV) 229E, MERS- and SARS-CoVs, and the researchers suggested it could potentially have a similar effect on SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, although it was not tested. The study was funded by a distributor of the product and authored, in part, by an employee of the manufacturer. Clinical trials of echinacea suggest a possible modest benefit for other types of viral respiratory infections, like colds, although results have been mixed, at best. In addition, as shown in tests by ConsumerLab, the amounts of potentially beneficial compounds vary widely across products.
Elderberry extract has been shown in laboratory studies to inhibit the replication and hemagglutination of human flu viruses, including certain strains of Influenza A and B, and H1N1. Small, preliminary trials in people with the flu suggest that, taken within the first day or so of experiencing symptoms, elderberry shortens the duration of the flu, but more studies are needed to corroborate this. There is no evidence that elderberry extract can prevent COVID-19 or reduce symptoms in people who have been infected.
ConsumerLab’s tests of elderberry extracts and supplements found that the amounts of elderberry compounds in marketed products ranged more than 2,000-fold — from as little as 0.03 mg to 69.3 mg per suggested serving., although due to lack of research, it’s not clear what amount, if any, would be effective.
For people who do choose to try elderberry extract, it’s helpful to know that it appears to be generally well-tolerated. However, people who are allergic to grass pollen may have allergic reactions to elderberry. Never consume raw elderberries, as these contain toxic compounds that can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness and diarrhea.
Garlic has been shown in laboratory studies to inhibit certain flu and cold viruses, and one clinical trial suggests garlic supplements may help to prevent colds. However, there is no current evidence that eating garlic or taking a garlic supplement can help prevent or treat COVID-19, as noted on the World Health Organization’s Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Myth busters website.
NAC (N-acetyl cysteine)
NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) is a synthetically modified form of the amino acid cysteine (cysteine occurs naturally in foods, whereas NAC does not). In the body, NAC is converted to the antioxidant glutathione. There is very preliminary evidence that NAC may improve certain blood markers of immune system health but there is not sufficient evidence to suggest that NAC supplementation improves the immune system to the extent that it will reduce the occurrence of illness, nor prevent coronavirus infection. A clinical study using 600 mg of NAC taken twice daily during flu season found that it did not prevent infection but fewer infected people were symptomatic. Evidence is weak for its purported ability to thin mucus during infections like colds.
Quercetin and its major metabolites, such as quercetin 3-beta-O-d-glucoside (Q3G, also called isoquercetin), have been found in laboratory studies to inhibit a wide variety of viruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which is related to COVID-19). For example, one of these studies showed that when mice were injected with high doses of Q3G before being infected with a lethal dose of the Ebola virus, they survived Ebola infection, while none of the mice that did not receive Q3G survived. According to preliminary research, quercetin appears to work by preventing viruses from entering cells, thereby reducing “viral load.” A clinical trial that will investigate the use of oral quercetin in patients with COVID-19 has been planned, or may already be underway, in China. Details about the exact form (quercetin or 3-beta-O-d-glucoside) and dose of the formula (produced by Swiss drug manufacturer, Quercegen Pharmaceuticals) do not appear to have been made public, but in a February 2020 interview posted online by the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC News), researcher Michel Chrétien stated he hopes to have preliminary results in the upcoming months. However, he cautioned that he does not want to give “false hope” about the potential benefits of quercetin until more research is conducted.
Until more is known, it’s not clear if taking isoquercetin or quercetin supplements can help prevent or treat COVID-19 or what dosage would be effective.
In small clinical trials investigating the effects of quercetin for other uses, such as for seasonal allergies, prostatitis or rheumatoid arthritis, quercetin (at doses ranging from 50 mg to 1,000 mg daily) is generally well-tolerated, although side effects such as nausea and headache can occur, particularly at doses of 500 mg and higher. Quercetin is naturally found in food such as capers, onions, apples, and certain berries, and people get about 25 mg of quercetin daily from their diets. Be aware that quercetin may interact with certain medications, including some statin medications like rosuvastatin (Crestor), atorvastatin (Lipitor) and pravastatin (Pravachol), and others.
Zinc has become one of the most popular suggestions for reducing symptoms of coronavirus. Notably, an email written by a pathologist, Dr. James Robb, that recommends using zinc lozenges such as Cold-Eeze to ward off the virus, along with other tips, has gone viral.
Although there is no direct evidence at this time to suggest that using zinc lozenges can prevent or treat COVID-19 in people, zinc does have anti-viral properties and was shown in a laboratory study to inhibit the replication of coronaviruses in cells (te Velthuis, PLoS Pathog 2010).
Zinc lozenges or other orally dissolving zinc formulas containing certain forms of zinc have been shown to reduce the severity and duration of colds, which are caused by viruses. They appear to do this by acting directly in the throat, which is why the timing and duration of use matters when treating colds with zinc. The connection with coronavirus and zinc lozenges is that the major cause of illness and death among people who are symptomatic with COVID-19 is respiratory disease and it is in the upper airway that zinc lozenges can have some activity.
Be aware that typical daily doses of zinc provided by zinc lozenges generally exceed tolerable upper limits for zinc, and for this reason, they should not be used for longer than about a week. Excessive intake of zinc can cause copper deficiency. Zinc can impair the absorption of antibiotics, and use of zinc nasal gels or swabs has been linked to temporary or permanent loss of smell.
There are several versions of Cold-Eeze and there are many other zinc-containing lozenges sold. ConsumerLab.com has tested many of these and has published its Top Picks in its Zinc Supplements and Lozenges Review, which contains additional information about using zinc lozenges, its benefits, dosing, and potential side effects.
Supplements and products unlikely to help with coronavirus and could be dangerous
Miracle Mineral Solution (Sodium Chlorite) and Chlorine Dioxide Kits
Miracle Mineral Solution (which contains 28% sodium chlorite in distilled water) and chlorine dioxide “kits” are not a solution for COVID-19 and are dangerous to drink. A number of websites and social media posts promote these products to combat coronavirus. For example, on her website, marketer Kerri Rivera touts Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) as a “secret weapon” to fight coronavirus and keep illness from progressing. (She was banned in the state of Illinois in 2015 from making any earlier claim that MMS can cure autism.) Ingesting these products has not been shown to prevent or treat coronavirus.
These products typically contain sodium chlorite solution to be mixed with a citric acid, such as from lemon or lime juice, or another acid before drinking, or are sold with a citric acid “activator.” However, adding acid to sodium chlorite produces chlorine dioxide, a bleaching agent. Sodium chlorite and chlorine dioxide are active ingredients in disinfectants and should not be swallowed, as they can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and symptoms of severe dehydration. Such reactions are not evidence that the product is “working,” as claimed by some websites. In 2016, ABC’s 20/20 detailed the case of a woman who died hours after drinking liquid Miracle Mineral Solution, which, the woman’s husband believed, may have caused her death.
A strong warning from the FDA in 2019 advised that Miracle Mineral Solution consumers are “drinking bleach” and states: “If you’re drinking “Miracle” or “Master” Mineral Solution or other sodium chlorite products, stop now.”
Colloidal silver (a solution with silver particles) has antiseptic (disinfectant) activity on surfaces and has been promoted by several companies to prevent or treat coronavirus. However ingesting colloidal silver has not been shown to prevent or treat coronavirus, and there are serious potential risks.
See the FDA and FTC’s joint warning to companies selling colloidal silver and other products to treat coronavirus. The agencies emphasized “There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).“
The bottom line on supplements for coronavirus:
Although several supplements may potentially reduce symptoms of a cold or flu, none can prevent infection with coronavirus or any other virus. Nevertheless, it is always worthwhile to fortify yourself to be in the best position to fight an infection. In addition to getting adequate sleep and general nutrition, the safest way to do this with supplements is to be sure you are getting sufficient vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc, as all are important for a well-functioning immune system. As described above, this can typically be done with foods and/or supplements (or, for vitamin D, adequate sun exposure if you’re able to get out in the sun for extended periods each week).
You can also get good amounts of vitamins C and D, zinc, and other essential vitamins and minerals from a basic multivitamin. ConsumerLab has tested a wide variety of vitamins supplements and has published its Top Picks which contains extensive information about the benefits and risks of multivitamins and how they compare on ingredients, quality, and price.
Consumer Labs is being continually updated with new information about supplements being used for coronavirus. You can be alerted of their latest updates and product tests by receiving their free newsletter. I, Mae Caime RN, Certified IIN coach, CEO of VIP4Health and Owner of The Belle Vous Spa Exo’tique, am a member of Consumer Labs. I believe everyone should be informed about the nutraceutical industry for its benefits as well as those to be safe guarded about. There are many false claims that could cause harm or actually aggravate a medical condition. In many scenarios more is not always better. It is advisable to consult with experts in the field. Many traditional doctors do not have expertise in this field, more often naturopathic and functional medicine physicians have more knowledge and experience in prevention. I refer and speak to top research scientists and doctors in the field of prevention, pro aging and new technologies. Please email Connect@VIP4Health.com if you have questions or visit consumerlabs.com for more information. This is not meant to treat or diagnosis.