Vitamin D

Dietary Supplements and Other Magic for COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is a boom time for dietary supplements, says the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). Because the threat of a viral pandemic seems to bring huge sales gains. Some people have trouble with wearing a mask. But maybe they have less trouble with popping supplement pills. Nevermind that masks actually help with the pandemic. The supplement industry is enjoying a windfall. Yee haw!

Multivitamins, C, and D

The big winners seem to be multivitamins, along with vitamin C and D. Those are the specific supplements that consumers report they’re taking more to face down this pandemic.

This is all about people telling themselves to take better care of themselves. In fact, 85 percent of American adults told the folks doing this research for CRN said the pandemic is making them more mindful about their health. That’s got to be good, right?

About three quarters of Americans take a dietary supplement of some sort. Among those folks, almost half – 43 percent – report that they’ve changed their regimen since the pandemic began. In short, they’re taking more. Most often (46 percent of respondents), that means taking something new. One quarter of respondents say they’re taking their supplements more regularly. And then 22 percent say they’re taking more of what they were already taking.

Masks Before Pills, Please

To be clear, dietary supplements do nothing to treat or prevent COVID-19. Even CRN says so. But so long as people are not overdosing – not something to take lightly – fine.* Supplement makers are stimulating their private economies. People reassure themselves, through magical thinking, that they’re “taking control over their personal health.” It’s like having a worry stone you can swallow. Most of the time, it leaves people feeling better. Sometimes, it provides something that might be missing from a person’s diet.

Still, we wonder if it’s possible for health marketing geniuses to nudge people toward taking comfort from wearing masks in public. Seriously. It could comfort everyone and actually do a lot to tame this pandemic. Mask up.

Click here for more on pandemic supplement habits, here and here for perspective on masking behaviors.

*Please note: “fine” in this context does not constitute an endorsement of unnecessary dietary supplement use. It represents an acknowledgement that this behavior is common, usually harmless, and unlikely to change. For further insight into this application of the word “fine,” click here.

Vitamin D, photograph © Ted Kyle / flickr

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August 24, 2020

2 Responses to “Dietary Supplements and Other Magic for COVID-19”

  1. August 24, 2020 at 10:31 am, William B. Grant said:

    Well, our review now has 341 cittaions and 122 SCOPUS citaitons, and there are about 6 observational studies in peer-reviewed journals reporring inverse correlations between 25-hydroxyvitamin D and COVID-19 severity as well as one study reporting reduction in inflammatory biomarkers and hospital stay for COVID-19 patients treated with 50,000 IU/d vitamin D2 for five days.
    Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, vitamin D supplements have many health benefits instead of adverse side effects.

    Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Risk of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections and Deaths.
    Grant WB, Lahore H, McDonnell SL, Baggerly CA, French CB, Aliano JL, Bhattoa HP.
    Nutrients. 2020 Apr 2;12(4):988. doi: 10.3390/nu12040988.
    PMID: 32252338 Free PMC article. Review.

    • August 24, 2020 at 12:34 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks so much for sharing this reference. I note that other scientists disagree with your conclusions and the completeness of your review of the evidence. For instance, Kow et al wrote in response to your review:

      The efficacy of high-dose supplementation of vitamin D3 in reducing risk of COVID-19 infection is mere extrapolation of currently available evidence, which is often conflicting, on the effectiveness of vitamin D3 in reducing risk of other respiratory tract infections. Given the possible negative impact on bone mineral density with high-dose vitamin D3, it is probably wise to wait for the results of ongoing clinical trials that are registered to explore the relationship between vitamin D and COVID-19.