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Do Vitamin D, Zinc, and Other Supplements Help Prevent COVID-19 or Hasten Healing?

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Supplements for COVID-19: Separating Fact from Fiction

The COVID-19 pandemic that began in late 2019 has affected millions of people worldwide. Although various vaccines are now available, the pandemic has led many people to search for alternative ways to prevent or treat the disease. One such way is through the use of supplements.

Supplements refer to a range of products, including vitamins, minerals, herbal remedies, and other substances that people take to support their health. Some people have claimed that certain supplements can help protect against COVID-19 or speed up recovery from the virus.

However, the evidence for the effectiveness of supplements in preventing or treating COVID-19 is limited and often conflicting. The purpose of this article is to explore the evidence for and against the use of various supplements in COVID-19 prevention and treatment.

This article will delve into the evidence behind some of the most commonly recommended supplements for COVID-19, including Zinc, Vitamin D, and other supplements. By the end of this article, you should have an understanding of how these supplements work, whether they are effective, and whether they represent a safe and healthy preventative measure to keep the disease at bay.

Zinc

Zinc is a trace mineral that's crucial for many biological functions, including immune system function. As such, zinc supplements have been suggested as a possible treatment or preventative measure for COVID-19.

Evidence for and against the effectiveness of zinc in preventing or treating COVID-19

Several studies have evaluated the potential effectiveness of zinc supplementation in treating COVID-19, but results are mixed. Here's what the evidence says:

  • Some studies suggest zinc supplementation may help reduce the severity and duration of COVID-19 symptoms: A study published in the Journal of Medical Virology found that hospitalized COVID-19 patients who received high doses of zinc had a shorter duration of hospitalization and were less likely to be admitted to intensive care than those who did not receive zinc. Another study from India found that COVID-19 patients who received zinc supplements had a shorter duration of symptoms, lower morbidity rates, and lower mortality rates compared to those who did not receive zinc.
  • Other studies have not found any significant benefits of zinc supplementation for COVID-19: A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a combination of zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin D did not reduce the risk of COVID-19 symptoms in healthy adults with no history of the virus. Another study published in JAMA found no significant difference in clinical outcomes between COVID-19 patients who received zinc supplements and those who did not.

Dosage and potential side effects of zinc supplements

The recommended daily allowance for zinc varies depending on age and sex, but generally falls between 8-11 mg per day for adults. Zinc supplements are available in several forms, including tablets, capsules, and lozenges. The dosage used in studies evaluating the effectiveness of zinc supplementation for COVID-19 ranges from 30-50 mg per day.

However, it's important to note that taking too much zinc can be harmful, and high doses can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and even death. For this reason, the NIH advises adults to not take more than 40 mg of zinc per day.

If you're considering taking zinc supplements for COVID-19 prevention or treatment, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider first to determine whether it's safe and appropriate for you.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is known as the "sunshine vitamin" because the skin can produce it when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in regulating calcium and phosphorus absorption, as well as supporting overall immune system function.

Evidence for and against the effectiveness of Vitamin D in preventing or treating COVID-19

Studies have produced mixed results regarding whether vitamin D supplementation can help prevent or treat COVID-19:

  • Some studies suggest a possible link between vitamin D levels and COVID-19 outcomes: For example, a study published in JAMA Network Open found that vitamin D deficiency was more common among COVID-19 patients who had severe outcomes, though the study could not establish causation. Another study, published in the Irish Medical Journal, found that countries with lower average vitamin D levels tended to have higher COVID-19 mortality rates, though again, the study could not establish a direct link between vitamin D and COVID-19 outcomes.
  • More research is needed: Several clinical studies are ongoing to evaluate the potential benefits of vitamin D supplementation for COVID-19 prevention and treatment; however, the results have not yet been published. Experts agree that more research is needed to evaluate the role of vitamin D in COVID-19, since various factors such as latitude, skin color, and time spent outdoors can all affect vitamin D levels and confound study results.

Dosage and potential side effects of Vitamin D supplements

The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D varies depending on age and sex, but generally falls between 600-800 International Units (IU) per day for adults. Vitamin D supplements are available in several forms, including tablets, capsules, and drops. The dosage used in studies evaluating the effectiveness of vitamin D supplementation for COVID-19 ranges from 1,000-4,000 IU per day.

However, vitamin D can be toxic at high doses, so it's important to follow the recommended dosage and not exceed the upper intake level of 4,000 IU/day for adults. Excessive vitamin D intake can cause a range of symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, and kidney damage.

If you're considering taking vitamin D supplements for COVID-19 prevention or treatment, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider first to determine whether it's safe and appropriate for you. Sources of vitamin D in food include fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products.

Other Supplements

Several supplements have been touted as potential treatments or preventative measures for COVID-19, including:

  • Vitamin C: This antioxidant is known for its immune-boosting properties, but there is no solid evidence that it can prevent or treat COVID-19. Some studies have suggested that high doses of vitamin C may help improve symptoms and reduce the risk of complications in some patients with respiratory infections, but this has not been confirmed for COVID-19 specifically.
  • Elderberry: This dark purple fruit is often used in traditional medicine to treat respiratory infections, but there is no evidence to support its use for COVID-19. Some studies have suggested that elderberry extract may help shorten the duration and severity of influenza symptoms, but more research is needed to confirm this.
  • Echinacea: This herb is often used to boost the immune system and treat colds and other respiratory infections, but there is no evidence that it can prevent or treat COVID-19. Some studies have suggested that echinacea may help reduce the duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms, but the evidence is mixed.

Evidence for and Against the Effectiveness of these Supplements

When it comes to the effectiveness of these supplements for preventing or treating COVID-19, the evidence is limited and inconclusive. Some studies suggest potential benefits, while others show no effect:

  • Vitamin C: A few small studies have suggested that high-dose vitamin C may help improve symptoms and reduce the risk of complications in patients with respiratory infections, including COVID-19. However, larger randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm these findings.
  • Elderberry: Some in vitro studies have suggested that elderberry extract may help inhibit the growth of viruses like influenza and SARS-CoV-2, but there is no strong clinical evidence to support its use for COVID-19 specifically.
  • Echinacea: Some studies have suggested that echinacea may help reduce the duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms, but there is no evidence that it can prevent or treat COVID-19.

Potential Risks and Side Effects of these Supplements

Most supplements are considered safe when taken as directed, but they can have potential risks and side effects:

  • Vitamin C: High doses of vitamin C may cause gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and cramps. People with a history of kidney stones should avoid high doses of vitamin C, as it can increase the risk of stone formation.
  • Elderberry: Raw elderberry fruit and foliage contain a chemical called cyanogenic glycoside, which can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested in large amounts. Commercial elderberry products are generally considered safe when taken as directed, but may cause mild gastrointestinal symptoms in some people.
  • Echinacea: Echinacea can cause mild gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and stomach pain, in some people. It can also cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic to plants in the same family, such as ragweed, daisies, and marigolds.

It's important to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements, especially if you have underlying health conditions or take medications, to avoid potential interactions and side effects.

Conclusion

When it comes to the effectiveness of supplements in preventing or treating COVID-19, the evidence is mixed and inconclusive. While some supplements, such as Vitamin D and Zinc, show promise in reducing the severity of COVID-19 and boosting overall immunity, many others have not been proven to be effective at preventing or treating the virus.

Overall, it is important to remember that supplements are not a substitute for following public health guidelines, such as wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and getting vaccinated when able. These measures remain the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and should be prioritized over the use of supplements.

However, for individuals who may be deficient in certain nutrients or wish to supplement their diet, the use of supplements may be beneficial. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, as some supplements may interact with medications or have potential side effects.

Finally, further research is needed to definitively determine the effectiveness of supplements for preventing or treating COVID-19. Large, randomized controlled trials are needed to provide more conclusive evidence, and healthcare providers and individuals should stay up to date on emerging research before making any decisions about supplement use.

Key Takeaways

  • Supplements, such as Vitamin D and Zinc, have shown potential for reducing the severity of COVID-19 and boosting overall immunity.
  • However, supplements should not be relied upon as a substitute for following public health guidelines.
  • Individuals should consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.
  • Further research is needed to determine the effectiveness of supplements for preventing or treating COVID-19.

References

1. Annweiler C, Hanotte B, de l'Horteloup P, et al. Vitamin D and survival in COVID-19 patients: A quasi-experimental study. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 2020;204:105771. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2020.105771

2. Bhaskaran K, Rentsch CT, et al. Vitamin D status and COVID-19-related mortality in the UK Biobank. medRxiv. 2020. doi:10.1101/2020.09.04.20188268

3. JamaliMoghadamSiahkali S, Zarezade B, Abed-Ali Z, et al. Effects of zinc supplementation in patients with COVID-19: A randomized clinical trial. Preprints. 2020. doi:10.20944/preprints202006.0244.v1

4. Pae M, Meydani SN, Wu D. The Role of Nutrition in Enhancing Immunity in Aging. Aging Dis. 2012;3(1):91–129.

5. Ran L, Zhao W, Wang J, et al. Extra Dose of Vitamin C Based on a Daily Supplementation Shortens the Common Cold: A Meta-Analysis of 9 Randomized Controlled Trials. BioMed Research International. 2018;2018:1837634. doi:10.1155/2018/1837634

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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