Researchers and health care professionals are working around the clock to find effective treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. In the meantime, the news and “health experts” are trying to fill the gaps by announcing potential treatments, including some supplements and other remedies. As of right now, there are no FDA-approved treatments for this infection. So before you try one of these therapies, learn the facts.
Lauric acid is a saturated fat found mainly in plant-based fats such as coconut oil. It has been shown in the lab to have antiviral properties, meaning it may be able to deactivate viruses. Based on these studies, some have suggested coconut oil could have benefit for COVID-19, but there is no evidence to support this yet. Interestingly, sodium lauryl sulfate is derived from lauric acid and is a surfactant used to make soaps. We know washing hands with soap and water kill the virus, but that doesn’t mean we should be taking it orally as a “medication”.
Colloidal silver has been promoted online over the years for a variety of conditions, but the FDA has been clear that it is NOT safe or effective for treating any disease or condition. It is not surprising that internet “experts” are now trying to market colloidal silver as a COVID-19 treatment. In response, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent out warning letters to several business who were selling fraudulent COVID-19 products such as colloidal silver. Not only is colloidal silver ineffective against COVID-19, it can also be harmful.
Serious side effects can occur, such as argyria – a permanent blue-gray discoloration of the skin from the buildup of silver in the body’s tissue. It can also interact with medications such as antibiotics and thyroid hormones.
Chlorine dioxide (also known as “Miracle Mineral Supplement” or MMS) is a product that has falsely claimed to help with autism, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and influenza. Because of this, it was one of the first products on the internet to be sold as having benefit for COVID-19. Just like colloidal silver, the FDA and FTC issued warning letters to companies who were selling chlorine dioxide to treat or prevent COVID-19. Many formulations are available online but it is usually sold as a sodium chlorite liquid that is mixed with citric acid (like lemon juice) before drinking. This combination creates chlorine dioxide which is a strong bleaching agent and can lead to serious side effects. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Some individuals have had severe vomiting/diarrhea, life-threatening low blood pressure caused by dehydration, and acute liver failure after drinking these products.
Some supplements have studies to support a possible benefit in certain disease states, but most simply do not have good medical evidence to support their use. Since the FDA does not test these products in the same way as prescription and over-the-counter drugs, it is up to the manufacturer to ensure the quality and safety of their supplements. According to the FDA, “supplements are NOT permitted to be marketed for the purpose of treating, diagnosing, preventing, or curing diseases.” All supplements should be discussed with your healthcare provider before using it. Here are some you may find on the internet claiming benefit for COVID-19.
Vitamin C (also called ascorbic acid) is a water soluble vitamin important for many functions of the body, including the immune system. It has been sold for decades as a supplement to boost our immunity against colds and influenza. It can be found as tablets, chewables, gummies, and powder to mix in water. All of us need vitamin C for good nutrition and health, but how much do we need? The recommended daily allowance (RDA) was established as the “average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%–98%) healthy individuals”. This amount varies based on age, but for the general adult, experts recommend 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women per day, ideally obtained through fruits and vegetables. Getting more than the RDA through supplements is claimed to help fight off infection, but definitive evidence of this is lacking. Regarding studies with the common cold, the National Institutes of Health states, “people who take vitamin C supplements regularly might have slightly shorter colds or somewhat milder symptoms when they do have a cold.” However, those studies were NOT done in COVID-19 patients. Click here for more information about vitamin C.
Vitamin D (also called ergocalciferol or cholecalciferol) is a fat soluble vitamin important for nutritional health and strong bones. It also plays a role in our body’s immune response to infection. Like many other vitamins, it is available in numerous forms. Higher strength products are available as a prescription for patients with a deficiency, while other forms are available over-the-counter at the pharmacy. The RDA for the general adult is 15 mcg (600 IU). Some might wonder, if some is good, then more must be better? The answer is no. There are side effects of too much vitamin D such as nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, constipation, and weakness. Large amounts of vitamin D can lead to increased calcium levels in the blood which can cause problems such as confusion, disorientation, and heart issues. Click here for more information about vitamin D.
Zinc is a mineral that is found in foods such as meat, poultry, beans, and nuts. It helps our body make proteins and DNA and is also important for a healthy immune system. The average adult needs about 8 mg (females) to 11 mg (males) of zinc every day. Some studies have shown that lozenges or syrup may help reduce symptoms and shorten the length of the common cold if taken within 24 hours of the start of symptoms. Because of this, individuals have started to take zinc in hopes of preventing or reducing COVID-19 symptoms. For example, a St. Louis chiropractor suggested ingesting zinc and tonic water (because tonic water contains quinine, a substance that is distantly related to hydroxychloroquine). Unfortunately, there is no evidence to back these recommendations. While usual doses of zinc are expected to be well tolerated, taking too much can cause nausea, vomiting, cramping, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and headaches. Zinc nasal sprays have caused loss of smell, which can be prolonged or even permanent. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking zinc because it can interact with medications including certain antibiotics and thiazide diuretics.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body that is most known as a supplement to help people sleep. In addition to regulating our sleep-wake pattern, melatonin is also an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory chemical that may be important for our immune system. Researchers report the potential for anti-viral effects; however, proven benefit has NOT been demonstrated for COVID-19. Based on studies for sleep, short-term melatonin use is not harmful, but remember – these products are not proven safe and effective by the FDA. Side effects are rare but can include a “hangover-like” effect the morning after taking a night-time dose. Some experience disorientation, confusion, excess drowsiness, and dizziness.
For any questions or concerns about these claimed COVID-19 treatments, call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222. Specially trained nurses and pharmacists are available 24/7/365 to answer your questions. The service is free and confidential.