July 24, 2020

Any Safe and Effective Home Remedies for COVID-19 Infection?

The internet is rife with unproven home remedies for COVID-19. We look at some of them and uncover what works, what doesn't and what is downright dangerous.

If you or someone you care about comes down with coronavirus (COVID-19), it's natural to want to do whatever you can to speed up the recovery process. But whilst it's tempting to Google miraculous claims and 'cure alls', it's vital to check your facts and follow medical advice before trying an alternative approach.

Proceed with caution

Just because a product or practice is labelled as natural, herbal or antiviral doesn't necessarily mean it's safe. And mega-dosing or misusing substances purported to fight infection can be dangerous.

The level of misinformation on coronavirus is so widespread that the World Health Organization (WHO) has published a response. It busts some of the common myths that have been circulating about unconventional treatments. These include adding large amounts of pepper to your food, ingesting disinfectant, excessive alcohol consumption and subjecting yourself to excessively high or low temperatures. None of these so-called 'cures' will kill coronavirus and most are likely to do you serious harm.

COVID-19 virus particles
COVID-19 virus particles
Other potentially dangerous antiviral treatments doing the rounds include inhaling iodine vapour through a salt pipe and ingesting colloidal silver. Both can be toxic when absorbed by the body. Iodine vapour is also intensely irritating to mucous membranes. It can cause tightness of the chest, and headaches, and adversely affect the lungs and nasal membranes.

Colloidal silver can cause your skin to turn a blue-grey colour (argyria). Misinformation can be very dangerous. Be very wary of individuals making claims that are not recommended by the WHO or a widely recognised professional body or society.

What is safe to try?

There is currently no specific medical treatment for coronavirus (COVID-19). However, you can relieve symptoms at home using standard medical treatments if you have mild to moderate illness. Getting plenty of sleep, eating healthily and managing stress levels can also help your body fight the infection.

Some less controversial home remedies might also be worth a try.

Paracetamol vs ibuprofen

At the beginning of the pandemic, news reports suggested that anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen, may make coronavirus worse. The UK expert working group, Commission on Human Medicines currently advises that ibuprofen is safe to take as there is insufficient evidence to establish a link between use of ibuprofen and susceptibility to contracting COVID-19 or the worsening of its symptoms. However, some medical experts have urged caution with its use. They advise although the evidence is that ibuprofen is safe, paracetamol is probably much more safe if you have a fever linked to COVID-19 as it is less likely to interact with other medications.

So far, the initial concerns around ibuprofen appear to have been unfounded, and indeed there is research ongoing to see if ibuprofen is in fact effective in treating COVID-19 patients.

A new form of ibuprofen may well be useful in the later stages of COVID-19 infection. Scientists in London are currently testing whether a particular type of ibuprofen called Flarin can help COVID-19 patients. The drug is produced differently to standard ibuprofen and protects the stomach. It may help patients avoid respiratory failure and the need for aggressive intervention such as ventilation. The LIBERATE trial is being led by Dr Richard Beale and is a collaboration between London's Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, King's College London and SEEK, a proprietary drug research firm.

Vitamins and minerals

There's plenty of evidence that nutrients from the food we eat can support the immune system, helping to prevent infection and aid recovery. Vitamins B6, C, D and zinc help keep invaders out and support the production of immune cells and antibodies.

However, there is currently no real evidence that vitamin supplements are effective specifically against COVID-19 or other viruses, however it is sensible to bear in mind that being seriously depleted in vitamins and minerals will adversely affect health.

Some colds may be due to coronaviruses, and zinc has been shown to reduce the duration of colds. Also, people who live in countries with periods of low sunlight, for example the UK, are likely to be deficient in vitamin D, as plenty amount of sunlight is required to produce vitamin D naturally. So supplementing vitamin D, particularly during the winter months, might be worthwhile for people who live in such countries. UK guidance, which changed since the COVID-19 pandemic, now recommends that everyone over 1 year old consider a daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement.

Some 'alternative health' websites suggest that taking vitamin C to bowel tolerance levels (that is until you get diarrhoea) is an effective means of flushing a virus out of the body.

Vitamin C is unlikely to be harmful in higher doses because it is water-soluble and comes straight out in your urine. But whether it helps to take more than the recommended daily amount is still unclear.

It is worthwhile to note that there is currently no evidence of any protective or beneficial effects from vitamin C on COVID-19 disease. And whilst the associations between vitamin D and COVID-19 are interesting, they are mainly seen as correlations at the moment, as there is yet no evidence of causation.

Interestingly, a China-based clinical trial is determining whether mega doses of vitamin C can help counter COVID-19-related pneumonia. The study, which uses doses of up to 24 grams a day, will publish its results in September.

Herbs and food supplements

Herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger, echinacea and turmeric have long been used to treat infections. Garlic contains allicin, a compound which helps immune cells to fight off microbial invaders.

Garlic is great for the gut microflora as a prebiotic. It can support good gut bacteria which in turn supports the immune system, but it is unwise to go consuming massive amounts!

An age-old remedy for sore throat, honey, may be quite handy. Gargling on a teaspoon of honey is within good guidance for relief of symptoms like a sore throat. It should be noted, however, that it will not kill the virus itself, but can help to make the patient a little more comfortable.

A research study using herbs to treat COVID-19 is currently underway in the USA, headed up by Jeffrey Langland, a virologist and assistant research professor at Arizona's Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy. But the results are not expected for some months.

In a nutshell, there is currently no evidence for using herbs to treat serious infections. Even if some are shown to have a positive effect, it's the potentially dangerous side effects and toxicity that are the issue.

Regaining your sense of smell after COVID-19

Loss of smell and taste is now included in the official list of COVID-19 symptoms. If you've lost your sense of smell after a coronavirus infection and are concerned, some experts have advised it's worth trying 'smell training' at home.

It is thought that COVID-19 and other coronaviruses damage the nerve endings in the nose in some people. The 'smell training' can help to restore normal function. Organisations such as Abscent teach people how to do this by using essential oils to re-awaken your smell sensors.

In general, people can expect to recover their sense of smell and taste within a couple of weeks of recovering from a coronavirus infection.

And for those with longer-term issues, the experience with other viruses suggests two thirds will get their sense of smell and taste back within a year or so which is good news.

1). World Health Organization: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Mythbusters. Accessed 24.07.20. Available online: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters
2). GOV.UK: Commission on Human Medicines advice on ibuprofen and coronavirus (COVID-19). Accessed 24.07.20. Available online: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/commission-on-human-medicines-advice-on-ibuprofen-and-coronavirus-covid-19
3). Centers for Disease Control: Stop the Spread of Rumors. Accessed 24.07.20. Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/share-facts.html
4). Mayo Clinic: Debunking COVID-19 (coronavirus) myths. Accessed 24.07.20. Available online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-myths/art-20485720

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