Supplements for COVID-19

Oct 7, 2020

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Lights, sirens, and ladders. What comes to mind? Firefighters pulling out of the Station? Having to pull over and to the right to allow emergency vehicles to get by? Those chase scenes in movies where the hero turns on the lights and sirens so they can blow through red lights in downtown Manhattan? Emily's experience with lights, sirens and ladders was a little more mundane. Less exciting than an action movie. More like the boring and annoying experience of an interrupted lecture. And not a firefighter in sight.

In case you haven't noticed, we've had a pandemic burning across the world since January or so. At the time of writing, there have been about 34 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, 7.5 million cases in the US and about 160 thousand cases in Canada. Vaccine development is well underway. However, it will take time for one or more vaccines to be proven safe and effective, and produced in huge quantities, and delivered to people across the world. It is safe to say, we will probably be still living with COVID-19 for quite a while.

In times of uncertainty, people can be tempted to grasp at unproven treatments like supplements. Let's start by stating the facts. There are no supplements proven to help prevent or treat COVID-19. However, I know some people are going to use them anyway. So, let's try to avoid the dangerous ones.

Supplements called "immune boosters" are popular. People take them in the hopes they won't get COVID-19. Some immune boosters include green tea, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and colloidal silver. Vitamin C and D shouldn't do any harm if kept to normal doses like 100 mg/day of Vitamin C and 1000 IU per day of Vitamin D. In fact, all vitamins and minerals should be taken only at their recommended doses, not above. Vitamins and minerals can be harmful at high doses. Green tea should be fine if just consumed as a tea. Green tea extract is a much more concentrated version. You may want to avoid green tea extracts as they have been linked to cases of liver damage. Colloidal silver should be avoided. Colloidal silver can cause blue-gray skin discoloration, seizures, kidney and liver damage.

Elderberry, garlic, oleander, and zinc have all been claimed to be antiviral. People will take them in hopes they won't get infected by the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes COVID-19. Garlic is fine in cooking. I'm a little biased, but I think garlic should be in everything. However, garlic pills have lots and lots of garlic in them. Lots of garlic can lead to bleeding problems if someone is already on blood thinners. If you are on blood thinners, probably avoid garlic pills. If someone wants to take a zinc supplement, take a zinc oral pill. Keep the dose to 10-50mg of zinc per day. There appear to be zinc nose sprays available. Stay away from zinc nose sprays. They have been linked to a permanent loss of smell. There are no current oleander supplements available, but it is a common plant. Don't consume any part of it. Oleander is poisonous. It contains oleandrin. Oleandrin is a cardiac glycoside, similar to the heart medication digoxin. Since oleandrin can affect the heart muscle, that means it can the heart to beat in an irregular fashion. In the worst case scenario, that can cause a fatal arrhythmia. Finally, don't make elderberry syrup at home. Elderberry has a cyanide producing chemical in it that can be toxic if it is not cooked properly.

Some supplements are reported to help with anxiety and sleep like chamomile, ashwagandha and kava. Chamomile tea to help someone sleep should be fine. Ashwagandha can stimulate thyroid hormone production. If someone is on a thyroid medication and decides to take ashwagandha, they should have their TSH level monitored. Kava should probably be avoided. Kava has been linked to liver toxicity.

What should you do to reduce your chance of getting COVID-19? Do exactly what Public Health has been telling you. Wear a mask. Keep 2 meters or 6 feet away from others when possible. Avoid large gatherings when possible. Wash your hands. Stay home if you are sick.

Emily's welding class got to go on a field trip. Well, they got to go outside their building in Saskatoon. They were learning how to properly and safely put up a ladder up against a building. While Emily's class was trying to listen to their instructor, a different class was getting different instructions. A class of EMT students was practicing pulling away from the building's loading bay with a Sask Polytech Training Ambulance. Over and over again. With lights and sirens on. Again and again and again. Safe ladder use instruction for the welding students was interrupted repeatedly. But at least Emily didn't need a firefighter. Unless you count the time when she set fire to the cuff of her pants with some slag. But that is a different story.

As always if you have any questions or concerns about these products, ask your pharmacist.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

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