am always trying to help my patients lead their best life by being proactive with their health, more so than ever with COVID-19 around. Today I want to share 2 supplements that can help decrease the severity of COVID-19 (and look into a few supplements that may be overhyped).
The best part, is that these supplements are backed by research.
As a board certified family medicine physician, my recommendations to my patients are always grounded in evidence based medicine.
But, as an experienced physician, there are many treatments that have helped my patients that lack definitive evidence. It would be foolish to write something off just because it is lacking evidence, especially with a new disease, so I'll also be discussing other over the counter items that are currently lacking research.
So, let's see what the evidence shows...
...oh, and be sure to check out the end of this article, because there is one important thing you can control that absolutely can help you beat COVID-19.
The Supplements that May Help You Beat COVID-19
Before we get started, I need to tell you that these are not medical recommendations. This is a summary of the evidence I am seeing, and a list of the things I am telling to my patients on an individual basis. You definitely need to consult your personal doctor to determine the best course of action for yourself.
This one I am personally excited about.
There are multiple studies showing zinc inhibiting the replication of a number of viruses, including those causing the common cold, and even the original SARS-CoV (which caused the 2003 SARS outbreak). Evidence is strongest when using a lozenge within 24 hours of symptom onset.
There is not direct evidence for zinc preventing the replication of SARS-CoV2, aka COVID-19, but it's not a stretch to presume that because it inhibits other coronaviruses, it will slow down the replication of COVID-19.
There are, of course, studies that show no benefit to taking zinc with a common cold, but most medical reviews acknowledge there can be a benefit.
I always look at the risks versus benefits of any medical decision. The great thing about zinc, is that it is generally very safe. Zinc can be very hard on your stomach, especially if taken without food.
Check out the National Institute of Health's site on zinc for a full rundown of risks, benefits, etc - https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
Did you know that around 35% of US adults are vitamin D insufficient?
That's crazy, and as you'll find out, can be a big problem.
I am a big believer in Vitamin D, and more specifically, lack of Vitamin D, having a large role to play in a huge number of diseases.
Vitamin D comes from diet, and sunlight. Unfortunately, many people's diets are deficient in Vitamin D, and most people get inadequate sun exposure. Vitamin D does a lot of things in your body, but in the context of this article, it has a major role in immune function and decreasing inflammation.
Here is a partial list of all the groups at risk of vitamin D insufficiency:
- Older adults
- Anyone who is overweight
- People with an unbalanced diet
- Individuals with limited sun exposure
- People with dark skin
- People with inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, or kidney disease
- Those on certain medications
- And more...
So, with that background, what is vitamin D's link to COVID-19? There is strong evidence that adequate vitamin D may help reduce the inflammatory response to SARS-CoV2 infection, and inflammation is a major cause of morbidity and mortality with COVID-19.
There is very strong circumstantial evidence in population studies, that populations with higher levels of vitamin D (whether because of regional diet, sun exposure, skin color, or other factors) have significantly lower mortality rates from COVID-19. This is after controlling for other factors that may contribute to the severity of the disease.
Supplementation is generally safe, however it is possible to overdose, and 2/3 of Americans won't need supplementation. However, I think it is a good idea to consult with your physician, get your Vitamin D levels checked, and if indicated, start supplementation.
Again, check out NIH's website for more info: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
Side note: Many insurance companies will not cover a vitamin D level. It may be a good idea to ask for cash pricing, for example our members pay $17 for a vitamin D level where I've seen it billed at over $200 when using insurance.
The Supplements (and Medication) You May Think Twice About
Look, I know that evidence based medicine has it's limitations. Definitively proving a treatment works takes a lot of time, research, and money, and those resources are not available to investigate every possible treatment.
So, lack of evidence is not a reason to write a treatment off immediately. But, you definitely do not want to take an unproven supplement or medication if it has harmful side effects, and you really shouldn't rely on unproven treatment when there is a proven safe and effective alternative.
So, what these next items in our list come down to, is an evidence guided risk-benefit analysis.
Surely vitamin C, the "ultimate immune booster", helps with COVID-19, right?
Wrong. At least, mostly wrong.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and is critical for immune function, and anyone who is deficient in vitamin C would in fact benefit from taking extra. But, very few people in the US are actually deficient since it is so prevalent in our diet. So, the question is, is extra vitamin C beneficial?
The evidence for vitamin C is frequently mis-quoted. In patients who are critically ill, whose immune system has been overwhelmed, high doses of intravenous vitamin C help. In these patients, their critical, near death illness depletes their body's stores of vitamin C. The key here is, critically ill. By critically ill, think - in the ICU ill, not - in bed with the flu ill.
Unfortunately, oral vitamin C supplementation, or even IV supplementation for early, or mild-moderate illness, is unlikely to be helpful.
But, it tastes great, and is incredibly safe, and so I occasionally take some despite the lack of evidence!
Once again, NIH is a great resource: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/
Melatonin is getting a lot of talk for decreasing the severity and mortality of COVID-19...
...but the evidence is... underwhelming.
Many proponents point to the fact that since melatonin decreases as we age, and COVID-19 mortality increases as we age, that melatonin must offer some protection against COVID-19.
This is what we call psuedoscience in the medical field. There are hundreds of other things that change as we age that can also be linked to increased mortality in older populations, namely co-morbid conditions and worsening immunity, so the fact that melatonin also changes is not a great argument.
Now, melatonin does have a role in the inflammatory pathway, and I think there is an argument to be made that decreasing inflammation can improve COVID-19 outcomes, but the research is just not there yet. Melatonin is generally safe, but does have risks for certain populations.
Personally, I'm passing on this one unless more research is done.
Echinacea and goldenseal
Commonly touted as a common cold prevention, echinacea and goldenseal is another common suggestion I see for preventing COVID-19, so let's look at the evidence...
Numerous studies have been conducted and some show that echinacea may slightly reduce your risk of getting a cold if you take it while well, but the evidence is conflicting.
Unfortunately, evidence does not support using goldenseal.
There are also no studies or evidence linking these two supplements to improved outcomes with COVID-19.
Luckily they are generally safe, and while I personally am not taking these supplements, I am not dissuading my patients from taking them if they express interest.
Here are NIH resources on echinacea, and resources on goldenseal.
Blood clots are emerging as a major concern with COVID-19 infections, and so aspirin has naturally been brought up as a preventative recommendation.
Evidence for using aspirin as a preventative measure, or treatment option, for COVID-19 is lacking, although numerous clinical trials are being performed as I write this.
There is a significant risk of bleeding when taking aspirin, so it is not as benign as some of the other items in this list.
While aspirin may be recommended by the treating physician for severe or hospitalized cases where forming a blood clot is a major risk , it is not currently recommended in a routine or outpatient setting for COVID-19 due to the risks and lack of evidence.
The One Thing You Can Control That Will Help You Beat COVID-19 - Lifestyle
Supplements are nice when they work, and easy to start, but if you really want to beat COVID-19, look at improving your lifestyle and overall health. There is a very strong correlation between overall health and the severity and mortality associated with COVID-19.
There is no question, if you are suffering from a chronic illness, take steps with your doctor to control it as best as possible now.
If you are overweight, implement a plan for weight loss now.
If you do not exercise, start, even if you are only able to get in light walks each day it will be helpful.
If you do not get enough sleep each night, get more.
If you only implement one thing in this article, this is it. I have a few 70+ year old patients who have beaten COVID-19 with very mild symptoms, and the one thing they all have in common... they live an incredibly healthy lifestyle.
Do you have any COVID-19 success stories?
Statistically, most people will get COVID-19 and recover without issue. If you have a personal success story with beating this virus, share and comment on this article on social media! I think it's important to spread a positive message and offer reassurance to anyone who is scared of this virus that together we can beat COVID-19!
*DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice and is not a substitute for professional medical care. If you or someone you know has a medical concern, please contact your physician or healthcare provider. Do not delay care because of something you may have read on this website. If you think you are having a medical emergency, call 911 right away.