Adverse Side Effects of Herbs and Supplements Used to Boost COVID-19 Immunity
അമിതമായാൽ അമൃതും വിഷം
The Print, a reputable Indian news outlet that focuses on politics and policy reported on September 4, 2020, that people taking high quantities of turmeric (മഞ്ഞൾ), fenugreek (ഉലുവ), vitamin D, and zinc are coming down with adverse side effects. People also have been taking concoctions (ചുക്കുകഷായം) made of dried ginger root, turmeric, black pepper, and honey on the belief that they will act as immune boosters. According to a survey conducted in June 2020 by Pronto Consult, a health research firm, 92% of products brought at medical stores in India, are products labeled as immunity boosters. Before COVID-19 days, that amounted to less than 40%. The same survey found that in addition to the products listed above, people also add the following items to their daily diet, moringa oleifera (മുരിങ്ങയില ), probiotics, green tea, gooseberry (നെല്ലിക്ക), tulsi, lemongrass, bitter gourd (karela, പാവക്ക), and, chyawanprash (ച്യവനപ്രാശം).
The social media has been promoting these herbs and supplements as immunity boosters. The Ayush Ministry of the Indian government has issued an advisory encouraging people to take ayurvedic and homeopathic preparations to prevent/cure COVID-19. Arsenicum album, a homeopathic preparation of unproven effectiveness has been heavily promoted by the Ministry. While these herbs and supplements in moderation may have marginal benefits, people tend to ingest a lot more than what is considered a safe dose thinking that because they are natural products, they must be harmless. People who self medicate with unproven ayurvedic and homeopathic preparations and ingest enormous quantities of herbs, spices, and supplements do not know their proper dosage and how they interact with other medications that they may be taking. The pharmacologic term that explains such an interaction is synergy or synergic effect. Drug synergy is described as the interaction between two or more drugs that causes the total effect to be greater than the sum of the individual drugs.
Below is a summary of the important findings from the Print report.
- More than twice the recommended daily levels (150 ng/mL) of vitamin D have been noticed in some patients. High vitamin D levels can spike blood and urine calcium levels which, in turn, can cause nausea, vomiting, dehydration, dizziness, and confusion.
- Fenugreek seeds in large doses lead to thinning of blood and can cause dangerous bleeding in patients with or without liver disease. Dr. Cyriac Abby Philips, a specialist in hepatology from Kochi treated a patient, who consumed two glasses of the fenugreek decoction per day for a whole week. His blood-thinning ratio was three-times the normal. According to Dr. Philips, “After stopping the fenugreek decoction, the test value was restored to normal levels but he had a few bleeding spots on the skin.”
- Doctors in Delhi have noticed yellow coloration in the eyes of a patient who consumed two tablespoons of turmeric, three times a day for the last three months. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric is also a blood thinner and it will adversely affect those who are already on an anticoagulation drug such as warfarin. As reported in WebMD, while curcumin may prove to be beneficial to conditions involving inflammation, experts warn that it may interfere with the body’s response to COVID-19
Doctors are trained in assessing the risks and benefits of medications including supplements. Those who are afraid of contracting COVID-19 should not self-medicate with supplements and herbs without consulting a physician, especially if one is suffering from another disease.
In an earlier article about Arsenicum album, published in Medium, I had the following advice:
Arsenicum Album as Prophylactic and Treatment for Covid-19 — Hype or Hoax?
In January 2020, when the authorities in Wuhan, China identified the novel Coronavirus that infected thousands of…
Sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet are three simple ways to boost immunity. Traditional Indian cuisine, cooked in oil and ghee with unique spice mixes and yogurt, whether it is vegetarian or non-vegetarian has the right combination of grains, protein, fat, fiber, and essential nutrients to provide a balanced meal. Nutritional supplements such as vitamin D, vitamin C, and zinc have been recommended to boost immunity to prevent COVID-19. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D. Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamin C. Meat, mushrooms, cashew nuts, and chickpeas contain more than enough zinc needed for our body. There is no known and effective prophylactic for COVID-19. Wash hands with soap and water, wear a mask when in public, and stay at least six feet (two meters) apart. Those are the only known preventive measures that have been proven effective.
The report from the publication, The Print that has been used in this article can be accessed below.