A Pandemic of Crackpot Science

Scared, bored, and isolated. In the midst of a pandemic, we have the perfect breeding ground for crackpot science. Over the Easter weekend, a rash of fires in the UK scorched almost two dozen cellphone towers. In all, about 50 towers in the UK have burned because of a crackpot theory that 5G communications boost the spread of the pandemic coronavirus.

It doesn’t help when public figures and media promote sketchy ideas.

Nutrition to Boost the Immune System

Theories abound on how to boost your immune system through nutrition. In normal times, dietary supplements with flimsy claims may seem harmless. But the flaw in that thinking becomes obvious when people are scared, bored, and isolated.

Dietary supplements are no substitute for good medical care and prevention measures. And yet, sales are soaring. As public awareness of the pandemic grew, sales of elderberry supplements leapt by more than 400 percent. Zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin D supplements are growing impressively, too. It doesn’t take much. The mere suggestion that a supplement might have an effect in some people captures the imagination of fearful people.

But here’s the truth, per the British Nutrition Foundation:

No food or supplement can protect you from getting the coronavirus (COVID-19). Nevertheless, having a healthy diet is important in supporting our immune function and many nutrients influence the body’s ability to fight infection.

In other words, get a grip. Good nutrition is always important. Neither swallowing gobs of supplements and eating loads of bogus “superfoods” is a good substitute for healthy eating habits that you enjoy. And almost certainly, none of this will protect you from getting the coronavirus. For that, what you need to do is simple. Wash your hands often and keep your distance from other people – especially anyone who isn’t wearing a mask out in public. Keep everything you touch clean and disinfected. And to keep from the virus, wear a mask and cover your coughs and sneezes. No magic required. Just sensible behavior.

Fear of Medical Care

Unfortunately, people with real medical needs are avoiding medical care. Yes, the system is strained in some places. So you need to be sensible, especially if you live in a hotspot. But avoiding medical care that you really need is never a good choice.

We have a good friend who developed COVID-19 five weeks ago and only now is beginning to feel barely human again. Did he think about seeking emergency care? “No. People are dying in hospitals. I didn’t want to go near any of that,” he told us. We are grateful that his fear did not lead to his death. But such fear is a factor in rising numbers of people dying at home.

Thus we note that it is particularly irresponsible for people to promote fears and misinformation about obesity and COVID-19. Some are promoting fear that ventilators are being rationed based on weight. Some are denying the fact that severe obesity is a risk for severe symptoms with COVID-19. This is simply wrong.

Crackpot science is flourishing in the pandemic. It’s despicable when it comes from people who should know better.

Click here for more on supplements and the pandemic and here for sensible nutrition advice in these times. For more on getting appropriate care, click here.

Crackpot, photograph © Robert Couse-Baker / flickr

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April 17, 2020

2 Responses to “A Pandemic of Crackpot Science”

  1. April 17, 2020 at 6:54 am, Al Lewis said:

    Nailed it. We did a smackdown of the “boost” your immune system nonsense in this blog post, and laid a few other fallacies to rest as well.

  2. April 17, 2020 at 6:55 am, Professor Clare Collins said:

    Hi. Here is an article I wrote on food, nutrition and your immune function for The Conversation: