COLUMBUS, Ohio — Certain vitamins and supplements have become more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there’s no evidence to support taking any of these products to prevent or treat the virus, according to managers and experts.
What do you want to know
- The National Institutes of Health does not recommend any vitamins for COVID-19
- Vitamin companies saw opportunity to cash in on pandemic, expert says
- Patients should consult a healthcare professional before starting a vitamin regimen
Whether it’s Facebook friends or influencers, state officials or congressional representatives, advertisements or articles on the internet, vitamins and supplements are regularly touted as having benefits for the COVID-19.
Amy Lewis, clinical nutrition supervisor for Mount Carmel Medical Group, said there were no vitamins or supplements she would recommend for the prevention, treatment or recovery of COVID-19.
“There is nothing that has been proven to significantly impact the disease or lower the risk of getting it,” she said. “All the studies that exist that have looked at it, a lot of them are very preliminary, they’re usually in very small groups of people for very short periods of time, so only the information that we get even from them is very limited.
For some, a vitamin regimen replaces vaccination, but others who are vaccinated are also taking products that they hope will boost their immune system.
Besides the lack of evidence to support their use, Lewis said you can get many of the vitamins people have taken for COVID-19 through everyday foods.
“A lot of the things that exist because of a COVID benefit — you see things like vitamin C and magnesium and all those things that can help — well, a lot of those things you’re going to get in a healthy diet,” says -she. “Just doing the things you should already be doing by eating well, sleeping, and exercising will likely help your immune system more than any supplement you might take.”
Courtnee Davis, who is the manager of a GNC store in Gahanna, Ohio, said many of their customers are becoming more interested in vitamins and supplements due to the pandemic.
“What motivates most of our customers? Probably just living a better life. With the pandemic, people weren’t really living the best they could,” she said.
Davis, who is vaccinated, said she took an elderberry product throughout the pandemic, hoping it would boost her immune health.
She said customers come for super magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin C. She also noticed their “vitapaks” have been popular lately, which contain six to eight different vitamins, as well as probiotics. Each customer has a different motivation for seeking vitamins, she said.
Davis said many customers who walk into the store don’t know exactly what they want, so she tries to steer them in the right direction. With a background in pre-workout and protein products, she said she researches vitamin products to better advise clients in these areas.
“I’ve started reading about vitamins so I’m starting to get better with that, but it definitely takes time and researching different ingredients of things, but for me it’s mostly really listening to the customer,” said she declared.
Although she thinks certain vitamins can help people avoid catching COVID-19, she said vaccination and other preventative measures like hand washing are the best practices for avoiding the disease.
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health, vaccines and therapeutics are the only proven tools for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 disease.
The agency resource page for “Food supplements in the time of COVID-19” explains that scientists are conducting ongoing research on some supplements, but “results so far do not show any to be helpful for COVID-19.”
At Mount Carmel, Lewis said she hasn’t noticed a marked increase in patient questions about supplements since COVID-19. People have always been interested in how vitamins and supplements might help with various disease processes, she said.
“But it just makes sense that people started thinking in that direction, you know, okay, maybe that could be something that could help me and keep me healthier during this time.” , she said. “Patients often turn to more natural remedies and things that they can get fairly easily at home to try to reduce the risk of this disease progressing or even getting this infection to begin with.”
Lewis encourages patients to speak with a healthcare professional or pharmacist if they have questions about supplements, especially since the products aren’t regulated to the same degree as drugs or even foods. Vitamins can also have drug interactions, which could be a concern for many high-risk COVID-19 patients seeking supplements.
If a doctor or expert advises a patient to take a supplement, Lewis recommends looking for a gold and black USP seal or a blue and white NSF seal on the product, which show that the product has been tested in a third-party lab for s ensure that it contains what it is supposed to contain.
Lewis and his colleagues reminded patients that some vitamin and supplement companies are trying to take advantage of the pandemic to advertise their products.
“They want to make money off of these products and they know they can throw them away quickly and feed off our desire to want to heal ourselves and get healthier and stay healthy so we have to be skeptical as to the motive behind these companies, and “why am I suddenly seeing all these advertisements, and all these stories popping up about the benefits of these different supplements for me, when I had never heard of them before?”, she said.