The Truth About Vitamin D, Zinc, and Other Coronavirus Rumors


What might work, what probably doesn’t, and what’s flat-out wrong

Here’s a lot of misinformation and half-truths going around right now about
the novel coronavirus. That’s understandable — the virus is very new
and doctors and scientists are still learning about how the infection works and
best ways to treat it. The news being reported about tests, symptoms, and treatments is conflicting at times, which is
confusing. Plus, everyone wants to protect themselves as best they can, so it
makes sense that people will try anything to stave off the virus, proven or

Here, Elemental breaks down fact from fiction.

Will zinc
supplements protect against the coronavirus?

There is no
research yet on whether zinc will impact the novel coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2. However, zinc may
interfere with the other six coronaviruses, including the original SARS and the
four coronaviruses that cause the common cold.
Whether zinc can prevent infections hasn’t been studied as much as its
therapeutic properties. A study from 2010 in cells in a dish — which, it’s important
to point out, are not full people — found that zinc blocked replication of the
first SARS coronavirus. In humans, however, the data is conflicting. One
of seven different studies found that zinc supplements
shortened the duration of a cold, which may have been caused by either a
coronavirus or a rhinovirus, by 33%. A more recent double-blind,placebo-controlled trial published by the same scientist did not see any
difference in cold symptom duration between people who took zinc and those who
took a placebo.

because you can hold your breath for 10 seconds does not mean you haven’t been
infected with the coronavirus.

“If there is an
effect of zinc just on common colds, it’s pretty modest, and there’s no
information at all about zinc and this particular coronavirus,” says infectious
disease expert William Schaffner, MD, a professor of preventive medicine at the
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “I’m going to repeat this again: Even
if there were an effect, it’s only modest. You can’t take zinc supplements in
lieu of doing anything else.”

Verdict: If you
feel yourself getting sick, it might be worth taking zinc supplements, but they
won’t prevent you from getting the virus.

about vitamin D?

Former CDC
director Tom Frieden, MD, published an opinion piece on Fox News this week stating that taking
vitamin D supplements could help boost the immune system, an essential piece of the puzzle in terms of
how serious Covid-19 can be.
Vitamins are critical to keeping the body, especially the
immune system, healthy. If you are vitamin deficient, it’s a good idea to take
a supplement; however, very few people in the U.S. actually are deficient. The
one notable exception may be vitamin D.
By some
, nearly half of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, which
humans synthesize from UV light. Now that most of us are sheltering in place,
we’re probably getting even less vitamin D from sun exposure than before, so in
theory taking a vitamin D supplement makes sense. In his article, Frieden
cites a 2017
that reported people who took daily or weekly vitamin D
reduced their risk of developing a respiratory tract infection. However, the
benefit was only found in people who were vitamin D deficient; if people were
not deficient, there was no benefit. It’s also important to note that there has
been no research on vitamin D and Covid-19, specifically.

Verdict: If you’re
worried about your vitamin D levels or been told by a doctor you’re deficient,
taking a supplement makes sense. But please don’t go to your doctor asking for
a test now, and taking vitamin D isn’t an excuse not to be obsessive about
hand-washing and adhere to social distancing.

Is it
dangerous to take ibuprofen in the time of coronavirus?

Elemental has covered this in depth elsewhere, but there is no published evidence that
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen suppress the immune system
or exacerbate Covid-19.

Verdict: Either
ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Tylenol) are safe and effective to alleviate pain
and fever.

gargling with warm salt water or drinking a lot of water protect against the

Gargling with warm
salt water is a tried-and-true home remedy to relieve symptoms of a sore
throat, but that’s pretty much all it can do. It does not work as an antiviral
to prevent or resolve an infection. (Also, a sore throat is not a common symptom of Covid-19.)

“If you want to
gargle with salt water three times a day, fine. That will make your throat feel
better, but it won’t protect your throat against the virus,” Schaffner says.

Hydration is
definitely important if you’re sick, especially if you have a fever or
diarrhea, which can cause the body to lose moisture even if you’re not
sweating. There’s no evidence, however, that drinking water will wash the virus
out of your mouth and prevent you from getting sick.

Schaffner says
that on the surface, it makes sense that someone might think that if the virus
has to attach itself to the cells in the back of the throat, they could drink
some water and send the virus down the intestinal tract instead. But, he says,
“I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. Drinking water is good because it keeps
your hydration up, and that’s a good thing. But it will not protect you against
the virus.”

the sun kill the coronavirus with heat and UV light?

Many viruses,
including the original SARS coronavirus, are destroyed by high heat (above 132
degrees Fahrenheit) and UV light. In fact, some hospitals regularly use
machines emitting UV light to sanitize rooms and equipment. However, it’s not
yet confirmed if the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, acts in the same way. More
importantly, the heat and UV rays from the sun are not strong enough to have
this effect. Being outside on a sunny day will not destroy viral particles or
prevent you from getting infected.

“Heat and
ultraviolet light don’t act rapidly enough to interrupt the transmission
between people,” says Schaffner. “If you’re standing within three feet of me,
and I breathe out the virus, by the time you breathe in the virus, even if
we’re in blinding sunlight, the virus has not been killed yet.”

This question also
leads to the debate of whether the outbreak will die down over the summer like
other seasonal viruses. There is evidence that the novel coronavirus spreads
faster in cold, dry conditions, so some scientists have remained optimistic
that the hot, humid summer might provide some relief. However, epidemiologists
like Harvard’s Marc Lipsitch, DPhil, have said the effect will be modest and “not enough to stop
transmission on its own.”

Verdict: Although
extreme heat and UV light may kill the novel coronavirus, being outside in the
sun will not.

you self-diagnose Covid-19 by holding your breath for 10 seconds?

This is another
question that Schaffner says makes sense on the surface. If you have severe
Covid-19 with pneumonia, your lungs are impaired and you’ll have to work harder
to breathe. At that point, you probably won’t be able to hold your breath for
10 seconds because you’ll need to breathe more frequently to get good air in and
bad air out.

But, he says, “If
you’re that sick, believe me, you don’t have to do a test by holding your
breath. By that time, you’ve got a fever, you’re feeling terrible, you’re
having difficulty breathing, and I hope that you’re in your doctor’s office or
the emergency room.”

The test will not
tell you anything if you have been infected but have no symptoms or symptoms
without a cough, which there are increasingly reports of early on in the course
of the illness.

Verdict: Just because you can hold your breath for
10 seconds does not mean you haven’t been infected with the coronavirus.

The coronavirus
outbreak is rapidly evolving. To stay informed, check the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as your local health department for updates.
If you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed, reach out to the
Crisis Text Line.
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