In a recent publication in Nutrients, researchers aimed to gain deeper insight into consumers’ opinions, knowledge, and usage of supplements during the first 2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, the authors conducted a scoping search from August 2021 to December 2021. PubMed, ERIC, and Scopus databases were searched and screened for eligibility and included studies only involving individuals aged 18 years and older. Fourteen cross-sectional studies from 11 countries and three continents were examined, and all studies were large population surveys examining healthy eating and the use of supplements during COVID-19. Most of these studies delivered their questionnaires via social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, Twitter, Instagram, or Gmail.
Data indicated that the most commonly used dietary supplements reported were vitamin C, vitamin D, multivitamins, probiotics, omega-3, zinc, and B-complex vitamins. Among these nutritional supplements, the most frequently used supplements were vitamin C, vitamin D, multivitamins, and zinc, with the range of population reported use (15%-94%), (18%-34%), (19%-31%), and (3%-18%), respectively.
The most commonly used herbal supplements/natural products reported were ginger, garlic, honey, turmeric, lemon, black seed, cinnamon, and anise. Among these products, ginger, honey, garlic, and turmeric (curcumin) were extensively utilized among respondents, with reported use between (32%-56%), (30%-46%), (10%-34%), and (16%-19%), respectively.
The most frequent reason cited for using dietary supplements and natural/herbal products was to strengthen the immune system and thwart the risk of COVID-19 infection.
According to the studies, the most common factor cited for motivating the use of dietary supplements was gender, and females were more likely to report consuming dietary supplements than men. Other influencing factors included level of education, presence of any chronic disease/COVID-19 symptoms/infection, and prior use of supplements before COVID-19. Studies also indicated that supplements were used across all age groups during the pandemic. Participants with higher levels of education were also more prone to utilize supplements during COVID-19. Additionally, those who used supplements before the pandemic were more likely to use them during the pandemic.
Most participants also reported that they believed that using vitamin C and garlic could diminish the risks of developing COVID-19 and strengthen immunity. Participants also indicated that vitamins are essential in enhancing immunity and can thwart the common cold and influenza viruses. Findings also reported that vitamin C was most often acknowledged and utilized as an immune booster, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data also indicated that the most common resources for obtaining evidence/advice regarding the use of dietary and herbal supplements that study participants reported included family/friends and relatives/colleagues (36%-41%), followed by social media/tv/Internet/newspapers/advertisements (14%-60%) and healthcare providers like physicians, dietitians, pharmacists, and medical practitioners (13%-43%).
In conclusion, the authors wrote, “Despite inadequate evidence regarding dietary supplement use to prevent or treat COVID-19, sales for these supplements are projected to increase. The reliance on supplements may have short-term and long-term health consequences.”
Lastly, the authors noted that future studies and interventions should aim to provide more adequate and accurate evidence for the use of dietary supplements with regard to COVID-19.
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