- A new study says that taking vitamin C and/or zinc doesn’t lessen the symptoms of COVID-19.
- Experts say there are no known effective therapies for at-home treatment of COVID-19 yet.
- However, they hope new research can lead to some home-based remedies in the near future.
When it comes to fighting COVID-19 at home, high doses of vitamin C and zinc don’t appear to lessen symptoms or shorten the duration of the illness.
The study, led by a team from the Cleveland Clinic, asked if high-dose zinc, high-dose ascorbic acid, and/or a combination of the two reduce the duration of COVID-19 symptoms.
“Treatment with zinc, ascorbic acid, or both does not affect SARS-CoV-2 symptoms,” the study found.
Dr. Suma Thomas, a co-principal in the study and a specialist in cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, said the researchers explored the question both because of the long history of people claiming to fight colds with these supplements as well as to contribute to the process of finding at-home solutions to battling COVID-19.
“I’ve been fascinated by it for years,” Thomas told Healthline. “This is a great time to study it.”
Despite the results, she said, the study serves a purpose: Those who may be fighting COVID-19 at home won’t assume the supplements are a solution.
“These are very commonly taken,” Thomas said. “A lot of people have been spending money on these things, and they may not do [much to help]. Everywhere, everyone has been talking about vitamin C and zinc.”
Now, she said, they’ll know that it doesn’t affect the duration or severity of COVID-19.
“It’s good to look at the data like this,” she said. “People can now weigh the cost and possible side effects with the results and make an informed decision.”
So, what’s out there to treat the early stages of COVID-19 at home?
“Honestly, there’s not a whole lot,” Dr. Peter S. Staats, founder of the Division of Pain Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Maryland who served as division chief of that department for a decade, told Healthline.
Staats said he tried the vitamin C and zinc combination when fighting a virus and found that at high doses, “they caused a lot of side effects,” including nausea, and didn’t change the outcome much.
That means, he said, right now there are few, if any, known therapies for COVID-19 that are sold over the counter and that can be used at home.
He expects that to change.
“We are going to have rapidly evolving ‘living’ guidelines for COVID soon,” he said. “We need more for early treatment.”
Dr. Brian Thomas Garibaldi, director of the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit and an associate professor of medicine, said he wasn’t surprised at the study results.
“There has been conflicting evidence [around the two supplements] for years,” he said.
Having just stepped off the ICU floor to speak to Healthline, Garibaldi said that on the front lines, they’re hoping for “a clear way to keep people out of the hospital. I wish we had a magic bullet.”
That won’t be an easy find, he said.
“It’s pretty clear there is not a cure-all for these things,” he said.
Why are we still waiting for those breakthroughs?
Both Staats and Garibaldi point out that the focus has been on other issues during most of the pandemic.
“We are just coming up on our one-year anniversary of having our first patient in here,” Garibaldi said. “In some ways it feels quick and in others it feels like a lifetime ago.”
The reality is, he said, in medical time, it’s been quick.
Staats agrees, saying that “the vast majority [of focus] has been on not getting sick and on how to handle hospitalizations.”
Now, all agree, is the time to find more solutions for both early stage COVID-19 as well as therapies for long haulers.
In short, not much is available at the moment.
But there are steps those fighting COVID-19 at home can take, with the support of medical professionals, even if all we have now, as Garibaldi said, is “symptomatic supportive care.”
The first option is available in every home: water and other liquids.
“Stay hydrated,” Garibaldi said. “It makes a big difference.”
He also suggests trying as best you can to live with your fever.
“Fevers are not always a bad thing,” he said.
He suggested not treating a fever with over the counter medications until you’re “feeling miserable.”
There are tools available to help, too.
Having a pulse oximeter on hand can help those being treated at home stay up to the moment on their condition as well as keep their medical team informed.
Staats was part of a team that recently secured emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a new therapy to be used at home or in a healthcare setting to treat people who are experiencing asthma-related breathing difficulty.
The gammaCore SapphireTM CV (noninvasive vagus nerve stimulator) can be used by people with known or suspected COVID-19 who are experiencing asthma-related breathing difficulty and reduced airflow.
The handheld device sends a gentle, electrical stimulation through the skin to noninvasively stimulate the vagus nerve and seems to improve airflow.
It does require a prescription.
However, the FDA has issued an
In the meantime, the public will have to wait for breakthroughs in home care for COVID-19.
But the timing may be quicker, experts agree, with all that has been learned in the pandemic year.
“COVID, broadly speaking, has sped up [medical research and outcomes] by 10 to 15 years,” Staats said.
He expects to see many studies like the zinc study and also expects the developing guidelines to be “living.”
In other words, they may shift and change as more is learned.
But learn we will, Staats said, because we have no other choice.
“We need to have a plan,” he said, “and we need it soon.”