(04/01/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — In Louisiana and around the world, many people are looking to dietary supplements as a potential way to improve health and keep the coronavirus at bay.
Among the most talked about are vitamins D and C, zinc elderberry, echinacea and garlic, said LSU AgCenter nutrition specialist Elizabeth Gollub.
“Online and in my neighborhood, I’ve been asked if these items can help prevent infection with the new coronavirus,” she said. “The short answer is probably not. Vitamins, minerals and a variety of plant compounds can help strengthen your immune system. But that is not the same as warding off COVID-19.”
Gollub offered the following information on popular supplements:
- Vitamin D helps boost the immune system — and if you are deficient, supplementation has been shown to be beneficial. Exposure to sunshine and consumption of vitamin D-fortified foods such as milk and some plant-based milk alternatives are healthful as well. Vitamin D supplementation has not been shown to reduce risk to any of the coronaviruses. It should be noted that in very high supplemental doses, vitamin D could actually aggravate respiratory infections.
- Vitamin C is known to strengthen our immunity and overall health, both directly and indirectly. Large amounts of vitamin C (500 milligrams per day) have been known to reduce symptoms and duration of colds — but not to prevent the cold in the first place. Getting enough vitamin C is generally not a problem, and supplementation with large “mega-doses” is not typically recommended. On the other hand, studies are currently being conducted to determine if extremely high doses administered in clinical settings could help those who are critically ill with coronavirus-associated respiratory infections.
- Zinc has been shown to reduce viral spread and to reduce severity and duration of colds. Yet supplemental zinc appears to have minimal benefit among those with ample dietary intake. Among its several forms, the zinc lozenge is thought to be more effective, possibly by inhibiting the virus within the throat area. This has not been specifically demonstrated for COVID-19. Consumption of zinc lozenges should be limited to the short-term (about a week); they tend to contain high levels of zinc, which is not considered safe for the long-term.
- Elderberry is a small purple berry — an herb rich in beneficial compounds that have been shown to reduce duration of cold and flu symptoms. Raw elderberries can be toxic, but elderberry extract and supplements are usually well tolerated. Elderberry cannot prevent illness, and there seems to be no standard effective dosage among the variety of elderberry products. But as a means of bolstering the immune system and affecting anti-viral activity in general, elderberry supplements show promise.
- Echinacea is an herb that, used as dietary supplement, appears to help your immune system manage colds and other infections. Under laboratory conditions, echinacea can inhibit the growth of certain viruses. Among people, it appears to reduce symptoms and duration of colds and flu, especially if taken prior to getting sick. The effectiveness varies by product and quantity. The applicability of echinacea on reducing symptoms of the COVID-19 strain is not yet known. Short-term use of echinacea is considered safe, although a small percentage of people have had an allergic reaction to a supplement.
- Garlic does not appear to be protecting people from COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization. However, garlic has several health-promoting properties and can be a flavorful addition to many foods and meals.
Gollub also provided this advice for making sure you remain as healthy as possible:
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Eat well-balanced meals of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and good sources of protein.
- Consider supplementing with a standard multivitamin and mineral compound if you cannot get all the nutrients you need from the foods and beverages you consume.
- Drink water.
- Sleep at least seven to eight hours per day.
- Aim for about 30 minutes per day on most days.
- Participate indoors or out, but try to get outside daily for sunshine and fresh air.
“This could involve making a few small changes to your daily routine,” Gollub said, “but there is no time like the present.”