Demand For Vitamins, Zinc Supplements Soars In Second Wave. Do They Help Prevent Covid-19?

New Delhi : Vitamin C, D and zinc supplements have been flying off the shelves of pharmacies as a raging second wave of Covid-19 has led to a spike in demand for immunity boosters. So much so that there are reports of several cities witnessing a shortage of the over-the-counter supplements that are taken for general well-being.

Experts IndiaToday.in spoke to said multivitamins do act as antioxidants and build immunity but there is no substantial evidence to prove that they help prevent Covid-19. The spurt in panic buying of these supplements is also sometimes driven by unproven social media messages that they boost immunity against Covid-19.

Demand for Vitamin C, zinc tablets doubles

Sankha Roy Choudhury, president of the Bengal Chemists and Druggists Association, said in recent months the demand for certain products such as vitamin C, zinc tablets and B complex capsules has suddenly shot up.

“The demand has more than doubled right now. If the demand was 1-2 lakh strips in January, now it has risen to 5-6 lakh strips. Besides, we are now facing a shortage of vitamin products of main or bigger brands,” Choudhury, former joint secretary of AlI India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists, told IndiaToday.in.

According to a report quoting the research wing of AlI India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), over 185 crore pills of vitamin C supplements were sold last year, a growth of over 100 per cent when compared to 2019. Besides, sales of the popular zinc supplement, Zincovit, spiked by 93 per cent in 2020.

A pharmacist in Kolkata said sales of vitamins A, B complex with folic acid, C, D3 and zinc supplements had seen a 375 per cent rise from April 15. “People have become panic-stricken and are procuring such medicines even if not essentially required. There is a scarcity of multivitamins and supply has been erratic. I urge the manufacturers not to increase the price of such medicines at this critical period,” said the owner of GNG Medical.

What suggests vitamins, zinc may work against any virus?

Several minerals and vitamins have antioxidant, immunomodulatory and antimicrobial properties that can be helpful for immune response against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

“In the absence of a widely available treatment for Covid-19, supplementation of micronutrients emerges as an important measure to improve the immune system and to prevent the development of severe symptoms. However, one should not take more than the recommended dose,” said Dr Vineet Malhotra of Diyos Hospital, New Delhi.

Some studies have shown that Covid-19 patients were found to be deficient in Vitamin D. “There is some data showing that the presence of appropriate levels of vitamin D is responsible for preventing acute respiratory distress in patients. Thus, it can be surmised that perhaps vitamin D supplementation may have kept some from getting infected and/or developing serious Covid-19 complications,” Dr Jennifer Prabhu, Internal Medicine specialist, told IndiaToday.in.

In the case of zinc, Dr Prabhu said it has been shown to stop RNA viruses responsible for common cold from replicating, especially in the nose and in the lower respiratory tract, thereby preventing lung injury. SARS-CoV-2 is also an RNA virus and is known to affect the respiratory tract.

What studies have found

A study, published in the journal JAMA Open Network earlier this year, found that people taking zinc or vitamin C supplements, whether individually or combined, had no improvement in Covid-19 symptoms or faster recovery when compared with similar patients receiving neither of such supplements.

The COVIDAtoZ clinical trial, conducted by researchers at Cleveland Clinic in the US, enrolled 214 adult Covid-19 patients. “At 50% reduction in symptoms, the study showed no significant difference between the usual care, vitamin C, zinc gluconate or the group receiving both vitamin C and zinc gluconate,” the study found.

“However, few early phase clinical trials have demonstrated benefit in preventing severity of Covid-19 disease in patients receiving vitamin C and zinc supplementation,” said Dr Ganesh Divekar, vice-president clinical operations, SIRO Clinpharm.

Benefits of vitamins C, D and zinc; how to get them naturally

Vitamin C

– An antioxidant, it helps to protect our cells from damage
– Boosts our cellular and antibody defence mechanism in fighting against any infection
– Found in fruits and vegetables such as oranges, strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers, broccoli, spinach
– Recommended intake: 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men (per day)

Vitamin D

– Monitors immune system, including immuno reactions to viral infection
– Vitamin D deficiency predisposes one to infections of respiratory tract and mycobacterial infections
– In-vitro cell culture studies have demonstrated Vitamin D plays a role against enveloped viruses (Covid-19 is enveloped virus)
– Important for normal growth and development of bones and teeth
– Found in sunlight, salmon, sardines, egg yolk, shrimp, milk (fortified)

Zinc supplements

– Zinc possesses a variety of direct and indirect antiviral properties
– Necessary for activity of several enzymes that aid in metabolism, digestion, nerve function
– Accelerates wound healing, reduces inflammation
– Found in oysters, crab, lobster, meat, sardines, salmon, chickpeas, lentils, black beans, cashew, oats, quinoa, mushroom

On top of everything, experts were unanimous that it is necessary to realise that the most important factors in preventing Covid-19 are mask usage, good hand hygiene and social distancing.

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