Update 7/12/20. What supplements prevent coronavirus? None of them. With the world battling how to stop the spread of the coronavirus (Covid 19) there is no shortage of so-called experts touting the benefits of various dietary supplements to treat the virus or prevent it from occurring. By now you have seen have probably seen videos and websites touting natural remedies. As someone who has been investigating dietary supplements for over 25 years, I have to counter their fantastic claims with the facts. The fact is NO dietary supplement on Earth has been shown to prevent or treat coronavirus infection. If such a dietary supplement existed, I would know about it. To help you sort fact from fiction, I've compiled a list of dietary supplements people are talking about to help you avoid getting duped.
Supplements And Immunity
Various dietary supplements can help improve immunity. For example, you've probably heard about the benefits of:
But NONE of them have been proven to work against covid19 virus infection. None of them have any research pertaining to this virus. There is no “Coronavirus Protocol” when it comes to dietary supplements.
No supplement has proof that it stops this infection. Don't confuse general immune health with preventing or stopping the current pandemic. I think some people who are spreading false hope are making this critical error.
Part of the blame should also go to the mainstream media who are now doing stores on natural ways to boost immunity. Every news segment I've seen on this topic includes pictures of a variety of dietary supplements. Whether they know it or not they are part of the misinformation campaign.
Coronavirus Supplements With No Proof
Astragalus is an herb that is popular in the immune-boosting supplement world despite good proof it really works. Yes, various test tubes and lab animal studies suggest it may ramp up the immune system but the real proof is whether it reduces colds in people. At least one investigation has found astragalus did not prevent cold/flu infection in kids. Like everything else here there's no coronavirus research.
Cannabidiol (CBD) continues to be the darling of the supplement world as more states legalize hemp and marijuana use. While research continues to uncover how CBD may help epilepsy, arthritis, tinnitus, and other health problems, evidence for CBD strengthening the immune system against coronavirus cannot be located.
Despite what some TV evangelists may have said, there is no clinical proof colloidal silver supplements or toothpaste with silver treat coronavirus infection. The FTC has sent warning letters to companies making these unsubstantiated claims.
See the review on colloidal silver.
Claims that copper supplements kill the virus may be based on a report showing covid 19 dies after 72 hours when placed on a copper surface. Placing the virus on a copper surface is very different than taking a copper supplement. Copper is an essential mineral but we don't need much of it to stay healthy. The RDA is only 900 micrograms per day. Too much copper can lead to liver failure.
Echinacea has a long reputation for being an immune stimulant. Whether or not it is antiviral against Covid19 is debatable. While one preliminary study seemed to show echinacea purpurea inactivated the virus, this was a cell study. It did not prove echinacea purpurea works in people. This study used a specific supplement called Echinaforce. The company making the supplement was involved with this study. Regardless, better studies, using humans, need to confirm these findings.
Anyone making claims that essential oils can protect against coronavirus doesn't know what they are talking about. You can't inhale essential oils or rub them on your skin and expect to have a reduced risk of infection. It makes no sense. Yet social media is full of claims like this. Where is the proof? There is no proof. The FTC has sent warning letters to companies making these crazy claims.
Fruit and Vegetable Supplements
Fruit and vegetable supplements are popular and have been around for many years. While they are not the same thing as eating food, research shows that quality made supplements can raise levels of various antioxidants. Some research suggests they may reduce sick days too. That said, there is zero evidence ANY fruit and veggie supplement can reduce infection from this virus.
Melatonin is well known as a natural sleep supplement. Less well known are that this hormone also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Because of this, some have speculated whether melatonin may help those afflicted with coronavirus. Right now that's all it is – speculation. So far there are no human clinical studies of melatonin and the Covid 19 virus.
There are a lot of benefits to eating mushrooms but preventing infection with coronavirus is not one of them. This goes for all types of medicinal mushrooms like Cordyceps, Reishi (Ganoderma), and Morel (Morchella) varieties. Ironically, some may think that eating more mushrooms increases the odds of getting the virus. This is false and may be related to a Facebook post that was written in jest. If you like mushrooms, great just don't believe anyone who makes claims about mushrooms curbing the pandemic.
Nicotinamide riboside is a form of niacin. It's a popular dietary supplement touted as helping the mitochondria work better. They say this will help us live longer. The research on nicotinamide riboside is highly preliminary. There's no human proof the supplement reduces disease risk in people or helps us live longer. One study suggests a cocktail of several supplements -including NR- may speed recovery but this needs to be confirmed. There's no proof it protects people against this virus.
Reports that those infected with the Covid 19 virus may experience an increased loss of potassium (hypokalemia) may spark questions about whether potassium supplements can reverse the infection.
There is no proof of this.
Potassium is a vital mineral found in fruits and vegetables. But taking mineral supplements can be dangerous for those using medications called ACE inhibitors. This can lead to very high levels of potassium (hyperkalemia) which is a serious medical condition. This does NOT MEAN people should stop taking their blood pressure drugs. Interestingly, other research suggests ACE drugs may actually be beneficial.
Related, there is no evidence that eating potassium-rich foods like bananas will stop prevent coronavirus infection. They just have not been studied for this infection.
PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline quinone) is a dietary supplement that is sometimes marketed as being better than resveratrol. While it's often touted to help a wide range of things such as heart, brain, and mitochondria health, the evidence is preliminary at best. There's less human proof for PQQ than resveratrol for example.
There is no evidence PQQ helps those suffering from coronavirus. PQQ is not similar to the malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine. Their chemical structures are different from each other.
Some research suggests PQQ may raise bad cholesterol levels.
Rapamycin is a drug, not a supplement. It's sometimes given to people who've had organ transplants. Some research also has shown rapamycin can help mice live longer. Since younger people seem to have a lower risk of getting the virus some have speculated that given people anti-aging drugs will protect them from getting sick.
Mice and people are different. There's no proof the drug reverses the aging process in people. The same thing is true for other anti-aging drugs like metformin too. Remember regular exercise has more anti-aging proof than expensive medications. Also remember, younger people can get sick from the virus too.
Vitamin C supplements have no proof of being effective against stopping the virus infection or helping people who show symptoms. It's possible the rumors behind this myth may be based on the misinterpretation of research noting that if you take a vitamin C supplement at the first sign of a cold, the severity and length of the cold is modestly reduced. Ok, but this is very different than saying vitamin C supplements prevent infection with the pandemic virus. They won't help.
While we make vitamin D when we go outside, it's possible many are still deficient. Those with some of the highest risk of deficiency are older adults. Every cell of your body has receptors for vitamin D and that includes the immune system. The effects of vitamin D are most likely strongest in those who are deficient. That said there's no proof vitamin D supplements treat or prevent infection with this virus.
There is evidence that people who have the virus also have low levels of vitamin K. But this doesn't necessarily mean taking vitamin K supplements will improve your symptoms. There really isn't any proof either way. It would take clinical research to know for sure. If you take blood thinner medications like Coumadin (warfarin), you need to be careful with vitamin K because it can cause blood clotting.
The good news is fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamin K. These foods also have lots of other healthy nutrients to keep your immune system strong too.
Zinc is a forever favorite among those trying to boost their immune system. I understand why this is. Zinc can help immune system cells like T lymphocytes and natural killer cells (NK cells) work better. In addition, research has noted that taking about 13 mg of zinc every few hours at the first sign of a cold can reduce cold and flu symptoms.
But the effect is modest (20-30% at best) and zinc must be used at the first sign of a cold. Taking zinc lozenges and supplements every day to protect against colds/flu doesn't work.
Most people are not deficient in zinc. The RDA for zinc is 11-13 mg a day which is very easily obtained from food. Good sources of zinc include red meat, chicken, turkey, beans, and nuts. There are problems with taking zinc supplements such as:
- too much zinc may actually reduce immune function.
- zinc supplements may reduce copper levels in the body. Copper is an essential nutrient.
- High levels of zinc may raise bad cholesterol LDL levels. This can increase the risk of heart disease.
The other problem there's no proof zinc prevents coronavirus virus infection or reduces the effects of infection.
Caution With Immune Boosting Supplements
The coronavirus appears to ramp up some aspects of the immune system. This means in theory, immune system boosters may not be appropriate. In theory, they may make the infection worse.
Anyone with autoimmune disorders should be careful with immune-boosting supplements. Autoimmune disorders are those where the immune system attacks the body by mistake. This often happens for unknown reasons. Examples of autoimmune disorders include:
- type I diabetes
- rheumatoid arthritis
- Hashimoto's thyroid disorder
Any supplement that ramps up the immune system, could potentially make autoimmune disorders worse.
Coronavirus Tips To Detect Bogus Claims
Here are some questions to ask yourself when you come across claims a supplement prevents Covid 19:
- Ask the person to show you clinical human proof the supplement works. Ask to see the study in PubMed. This is the National Library of Medicine and is where millions of clinical studies can be found.
- Check the CDC website. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is up to date with what's going on with the pandemic
- Do an online search for “FTC and company X” where company X is what you're curious about. A search like this can tell you if the Federal Trade Commission has ever written warning letters to the company about claims they made about their supplements.
- Ask yourself who is telling you the supplement works? Is it someone who sells that supplement? If it's a doctor INSIST on clinical proof (PubMed studies). Make sure the research involves humans (not mice, isolated cells, etc). If you're not sure, post a link to the research below and I'll look at it for you.