April 2020

Don't Rely on Natural Products and "Immune Boosters" for COVID-19 Prevention

With COVID-19 concerns skyrocketing, consumers are taking drastic steps to remain healthy. Products promoted as “immune boosters” are taking center stage. Make sure your patients understand that there is no good evidence that "immune boosters" or other supplements can prevent COVID-19 or other viral infections.

Vitamin C is one of the most common ingredients in immune booster products. While many people believe vitamin C can help prevent infections such as the flu, there isn’t any reliable evidence supporting this. Taking vitamin C does seem to increase T-lymphocyte activity, phagocyte function, leukocyte mobility, and possibly antibody and interferon production. But most clinical evidence shows that even doses up to 1 gram daily don’t prevent illness. Zincgreen teaechinacea and many other natural medicines also fall into this category – while they might affect immune function, there’s no good evidence that they can prevent you from getting sick.

Products like Airborne and Emergen-C contain long lists of ingredients as well as very high doses of vitamin C. The FTC charged many of these manufacturers in the past for making deceptive claims. The concerns with these products are the same as many others promoted for boosting immunity – there’s no reliable evidence that they actually work. Also note that the FDA and FTC recently warned seven manufacturers about selling products claiming to treat or prevent COVID-19. Some of the most concerning products are those that contain colloidal silver – these are unsafe and can cause serious side effects.

Tell patients to also be leery of any prevention “advice” that isn’t promoted by the CDC or WHO. There are a lot of myths circulating on the internet right now – some people are promoting taking hot baths or drinking water every 15 minutes. Others are telling people to eat foods with garlic. While none of these practices are necessarily harmful, they won’t prevent COVID-19. Advise patients to focus on healthy lifestyle choices – getting 8 hours of proper sleep each night, eating a well-balanced diet, and exercising regularly.

Most importantly, tell patients to wash their hands regularly. There are a lot of recommendations online about making “homemade” hand sanitizers using essential oils such as tea tree oil. Some of them are alcohol free. Tell patients that there’s no evidence that these work. If washing your hands isn’t an option, make sure you’re using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Anything less won’t be effective.

Review Reinforce Infection Control in Light of Coronavirus on Pharmacist’s Letter to learn more.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.