Storrs, CT—Pharmacists have a critical role in clearing up misconceptions about the ability of dietary supplements to combat COVID-19, according to an article in Annals of Pharmacotherapy

University of Connecticut–led authors point out that some celebrities and social media platforms have promoted dietary supplements in the treatment and prevention of the novel coronavirus. 

The review looks at theoretical mechanisms and evidence related to efficacy and safety of selected supplements in relation to COVID-19. The authors cover several products, including vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, elderberry, and silver.

Their bottom line is that “evidence evaluating these supplements in COVID-19 patients is lacking, and providers and patients should not rely on dietary supplements to prevent or treat COVID-19. Rather, reference to evidence-based guidelines should guide treatment decisions.”

Part of the problem, according to the reviewers, is that healthcare systems and providers often are overwhelmed, making it more likely for the public to seek medical information from online sources.

“Prominent medical entertainment personalities have been featured on television programs and across social media platforms touting the use of certain dietary supplements to both protect individuals from contracting COVID-19 and aid in its acute treatment,” according to the report. Those messages have been heard, with sales of dietary supplements such as elderberry and zinc significantly increasing by as much as 255% and 415%, respectively, in the single-week period ending March 8, 2020, according to the authors.

The article also points out that the FDA has issued warning letters to multiple companies selling products with false claims for prevention and treatment of COVID-19, but says more needs to be done.

“It is paramount that pharmacists, who are often on the front lines of this pandemic, be aware of the data supporting or refuting dietary supplement use to help patients make informed decisions during this time of information overload and confusion,” they write. 

The review argues that patients and providers should not rely on dietary supplements to prevent or cure COVID-19, especially since current guidelines for the treatment of the infection don’t even comment on their use or efficacy. 

The authors suggest that those making inquiries be told that, instead of accepting unproven claims about vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, elderberry, and silver, they are better off following established protocols to prevent spread of COVID-19. Those include avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands, wearing a cloth face cover over the nose and mouth in public, and covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. In addition, it is recommended to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to prevent transmission or, when soap and water are unavailable, to use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. 

In addition, the CDC recommends avoiding contact with others who are sick and to practice social distancing measures. It also is advisable to clean and disinfect often-touched surfaces, according to public health officials.

“Pharmacists are an accessible drug information resource who have the ability to provide real-time data-driven education to patients and providers,” the authors emphasize. “News and social media reports should not be the sole source for evidence-based information. During this pandemic when information quickly evolves in the presence of contradicting messages and misinformation, the role of the pharmacist is essential.”

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

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