The review, which pulls together fourteen cross-sectional studies from 11 countries in three continents, reports that the most common reason for usage of such supplements was to strengthen immunity, with healthcare providers and social media among the most utilised sources for related information.
“This is the first article to review the extent of preventative behaviour through use and knowledge of dietary supplements.” the researchers highlight in their report.
“Future studies and interventions should aim to provide more adequate and accurate evidence for the use of dietary supplements in COVID-19 to the public”, they urge.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a widespread global threat to health, with an initial lack of cure driving a significant increase in awareness of the importance of health and immunity. Research progressively highlighted the importance of lifestyle factors such as nutrition, for enhancing immunity and thus, reducing the severity of infection as well as the likelihood of transmission.
It is widely understood that sub-optimal status of vitamins and minerals can reduce immunity, with research noting the potential power of such nutrients as pharmaceuticals to prevent and treat the COVID-19 virus, including vitamin C and D.
Whilst such research is still limited, the sales of supplements claiming to boost immunity have grown rapidly in recent years, with a market estimated to be worth $43.5 billion by 2031 and a compound annual growth rate of 7.7%.
Following these observations, the researchers from Mississippi State University, conducted a literature review to collate information available from 2020-2021 literature, describing the use of supplements by consumers during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The scientists screened 956 results from the databases of PubMed, ERIC, and Scopus databases to reach 14 eligible studies scoping the continents of the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, utilising specific inclusion criteria and keywords.
It was established that the most common types of dietary supplements taken were vitamin C, D, multivitamins, probiotics, omega-3, zinc, and B-vitamins. From these reported supplements, the most frequently used were vitamins C (15-94%), D (18-34%), multivitamins (19-31%), and zinc (3-18%).
The review observed that the most reported reason for usage was to strengthen immunity against COVID-19. Factors influencing usage included gender, with usage more reported in females, as well as in those with a higher level of educational, presence of chronic disease, and prior use of supplements.
The most used herbal/natural supplements including ginger (32-56%), honey (30-46%), and curcumin (16-19%).
The study highlights the increase in consumer awareness surrounding the potential efficacy of vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements in improving immunity and preventing viral transmission, supporting existing research and recent scientific discussions following the pandemic.
However, the lack of evidence concluding on their beneficial effects has limited their usage, for example, zinc has been observed to prevent viral entry and block replication, yet the evidence remains inadequate.
Despite this, the researchers draw attention to a recent advancement in this area: “In January 2021, 76 French experts released a united statement on their recognition of the role of vitamin D to decrease the severity of disease. They stated that the use of vitamin D by health care providers as a supplementary tool along with other methods is a promising and supported treatment.”
“To our knowledge there are no other government or expert reports recommending use of dietary supplements. For example, the regulatory institutions of governments assure the registration of safe products but do not endorse the claims on health.
“The position from the US FDA and health care guidance states that supplements are meant to help populations meet adequate nutrition but are not to be used as medicines. The positions of European Union, Middle East, Spain and Bangladesh provide similar guidance as the US”, they add, highlighting the need for further studies and RCTs to strengthen the evidence for the use of supplements.
“Global Dietary and Herbal Supplement Use during COVID-19—A Scoping Review”
Ishaan Arora,Shecoya White and Rahel Mathews
[NH1]Just removing from here as it is stated lower down