As COVID-19 blasts its way across the globe, viral wellness videos, tweets, and social media posts are springing up in its wake. Whatever the platform, these blitzes share the same underlying message: Certain supplements and natural remedies can prepare your immune system to do battle against the infection caused by the novel coronavirus.
“Anybody who’s making specific medical claims needs to supply a quality body of evidence,” says David Stukus, an immunologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio. “It’s really important to investigate before taking claims at face value.” So far, says John Mellors, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh, no randomized clinical trials have shown vitamins or natural remedies to be effective in treating or preventing COVID-19.
A lack of scientific evidence, however, hasn’t prevented self-styled experts from rushing in. Online, high-dose vitamin C tops the list of most-touted coronavirus supplements — a frenzy that YouTube influencers have been feeding.
One reason pitches like Saul’s can seem so appealing is that they contain granules of truth. A China-based clinical trial, for instance, is now evaluating whether high doses of vitamin C — up to 24 grams a day — can help resolve COVID-19-related pneumonia.
Another confounding factor is that there’s ample evidence that nutrients from our diet — including vitamins B6, C, D, and zinc — do ensure the immune system rests on a strong foundation. The vitamin C from foods like citrus fruits helps your skin cells keep bacteria and viruses out, and some immune cells deploy the vitamin as ammunition to kill harmful microbes. Your body uses vitamin B6 from meats and fish to make antibodies, defender proteins that keep pathogens contained until your immune system can finish them off. Garlic, meanwhile, contains a compound called allicin, which stimulates some immune cells to attack microbial invaders.
Some people who try unproven treatments could end up putting others’ health at risk as well as their own. Seductive pitches can lull viewers into the false belief that supplement regimens shield them against the virus, Stukus says, which may dissuade them from following social distancing and shelter-in-place guidelines.