COVID-19: Immune Boosters or Snake Oil?

Are We Just Talking Snake Oil?

In these days of the pandemic, there are promises and claims made that can cure or prevent the COVID-19 virus from occurring. Should you believe these claims or are they just snake oil? Sadly, most are not proven, and no safety or efficacy has been established. Some have stood the test of time as folklore, others, not so much.   I am not a promotor of taking diet supplements unless a doctor says you are deficient in certain vitamins or minerals.  But here is what is known about a few that can possibly end up on Dr. OZ.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins C, D, A and the minerals zinc and selenium can be grouped together as they may help by shortening the duration of primarily respiratory diseases (colds, flu and Coronovirus).  Vitamin C and D both can act as a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory compound. You can get required amounts as a multi-vitamin-mineral compound – there is no need to take them individually or use mega-doses.

Garlic

Fresh, aged extract and garlic supplements may reduce the severity of respiratory infections. It has been described as: lipid-lowering, antithrombotic, antimicrobial, antiviral, and antiparastitic. Garlic has also been shown to fight the common cold (often caused by Coronoviruses.)  It also should be mentioned that in the world’s oldest medical text, the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, garlic is mentioned repeatedly. It was also reported that it was fed to slaves and soldiers in the ancient world to keep them healthy. And of course we all know that it has warded off vampires in almost any Dracula movie in history.

But back to research – Seventy patients were given a high-quality standardized garlic supplement for 12 weeks while another group were given a placebo. The garlic group had only 24 colds during the study, compared to 65 for the placebo group. The average duration of symptoms was less than half for those taking the garlic.

Of course, this is only one study, however, the active garlic ingredient called allicin was written about way back in 1944 in a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemistry Society.

Beta-glucans – What are They?

Beta-glucans are large molecules made up of multiple sugar units—beta-glucan may offer a number of health benefits, including lowering cholesterol, improving blood sugar management, and boosting the immune system. As a soluble fiber, beta-glucan itself is not digested, however, it slows food transit in the intestines. Studies report when beta-glucans bind to immune cells like natural killer cells (NK cells), T-cells and macrophages, the activity of these cells is increased.

Many studies have supported the idea beta-glucans have a wide range of protective effects, including improved resistance to infections, liver protection, and cardiovascular benefits. It also appears to help inhibit tumor growth in mice. Americans need more fiber in their diets – so this compound can help provide the amount we need daily.

Sulforaphane

“Sulforaphane has also been shown to have antiviral properties. Studies have shown that sulforaphane reduces viral load in the nose, increases NK (natural killer)  cell production, displays antiviral activity against H1N1 Influenza virus, and can suppress replication of Hepatitis C Virus and inhibit HIV infection of macrophages through Nrf2. Interestingly, heat shock proteins which are produced upon sulforaphane consumption are also known to have antiviral properties. This is a quote from the web page, Orthomolecular.org. This site promotes using megadoses of nutrients and claims are made that have not been investigated (to my knowledge).

NOTE: Since sulforaphane can be easily obtained by consuming cruciferous vegetables that include broccoli, Brussels’ sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale. No need to take ultra-processed supplements that may not contain any or all of the  beneficial nutrients found in “real” foods. Sulforaphane is also purported to be a potent cancer fighter and there is some evidence to support these claims.

Elderberry

Elderberries are the dark purple fruit of the elderberry shrub. A rich source of antioxidants known as anthocyanins, elderberry is reputed by some to be effective in treating the common cold, flu, constipation, hay fever, and sinus infections. Others contend that it may be useful in treating toothache, sciatica, and burns, among other things, but some of these claims are less supported by research than others.

The European elder (black elderberry, Sambucus nigra) is the species most often used in supplements, although other elder species also produce anthocyanin-rich berries. There are several elderberry supplement options and preparations, such as gummies, lozenges, syrups, teas, and more.

Many of elderberry’s health benefits can be attributed to anthocyanin. As an antioxidant, anthocyanin works by clearing the body of free radicals that damage cells at the DNA level.1 It also has antiviral properties that may prevent or reduce the severity of certain common infections.

Elderberry also exerts anti-inflammatory effects, reducing swelling and pain by tempering the body’s immune response.

Elderberry juice syrup has been used for centuries as a home remedy to treat the cold and flu, both of which are caused by a virus. The syrup is believed to reduce the severity and duration of the infection if taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms. Some preliminary evidence from small studies supports this claim.

A 2016 study from Australia reported that, among 312 long-haul airline passengers, those who used elderberry extract 10 days before and five days after their flight had 50 percent fewer sick days resulting from a cold than those who didn’t.  In addition, passengers who used elderberry had less severe colds based on a scoring of upper respiratory tract symptoms.

What elderberry did not appear to do was reduce the risk of getting a cold; both the elderberry group and placebo group had more or less the same number of infections.

However, a 2012 study suggested that elderberry could help prevent influenza infection by stimulating an immune response. Choose a low-sugar capsule or tablet, not as a sugary syrup.

Source: Elderberry: Benefits and Dangers.  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/elderberry

 Buyer Beware

If you choose a supplement, take them in moderation and inform your doctor as some could be antagonistic toward other prescription drugs you have been prescribed. Keep in mind the following found on dietary supplement labels: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not inteneded to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any dieaase.”

Sources:

University of Maryland Medical System: Immunity Support Boosters

For a comprehensive list (it’s very long), search COVID-19 Schemes, Scams and Misinformation,

Stephen Barrett, M.D., William M. London, Ed.D, MPH July 18, 2020

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