AAWC: Emerging research on the role of nutraceuticals and botanicals for COVID-19

By Nathan Worthing

As we learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is contracted and spread, one thing is clear. We are gaining ground, yet much remains uncertain. We simply have not had enough time to develop a comprehensive understanding of the coronavirus.

While we continue to conduct research, analyze data, and run trials, we can also take a deeper look at alternative approaches and therapeutic interventions. One of these promising arenas is the use of nutraceuticals and botanical agents.

What are nutraceuticals and botanicals?

Nutraceuticals and botanicals were introduced in the US in the early 1990s. Nutraceuticals are defined as medicinal or nutritional functional foods, such as fortified breakfast cereals, as well as vitamins, herbal remedies and even genetically modified foods and supplements, according to the Pharmaceutical Journal. Botanicals, states the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, are plants known for their medicinal or therapeutic properties. Herbs are a subset of botanicals. So how can either of these agents potentially help prevent and/or treat COVID-19 and what does the scientific data show?

Evaluating the benefits of nutraceuticals and botanicals

Nutraceuticals can have a positive impact on our health and well-being, including delaying the signs of aging. According to the NIH, they can prevent chronic disease and help with the overall function of our bodies. Nutraceuticals are also known for providing therapeutic value.

The benefits of botanicals have been evaluated by scientists. This evaluation includes looking at “the history of use, conducting laboratory studies, using cell or tissue cultures and experimenting with animals.” In addition, studies on people through case reports and trials “provide the most direct evidence of a botanical supplement’s effects on health and patterns of use,” per the NIH.

Preventative treatments for COVID-19 

The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) recently cited a preprint released in March of this year which, “identified the ability of plant bioactive compounds to inhibit the COVID-19 main protease (Mpro),[7] which is necessary for viral replication.” And while more research is needed, these early findings mean there is a “biologic plausibility” to validate their use. The IFM named 12 compounds showing great promise in the area of prevention.

At the top of the list is quercetin, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that combats both RNA and DNA viruses. When taken, the data reports Coronavirus symptoms are reduced. Curcumin, Zinc, Vitamins D and A also made the list. Vitamin D reduces inflammation while increasing cell function. Vitamin A protects “epithelium and mucus integrity in the body,” per the IFM. It is an anti-inflammatory as well and the risks are mild, as long as the recommended dosage is followed. You can find the complete list here by scrolling down to the “Recommended Interventions” section. Following the listing, the IFM also provides the evaluative criteria.

Examining COVID-19 under a different lens

To date, COVID-19 has been studied as a lower respiratory tract issue. In a recent blog post, the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) posed this question: what if we’re looking at this disease the wrong way?

For patients currently affected with a mild case of the coronavirus, the risks are low and full recoveries are expected. However, for patients with more acute symptoms, hypoxemia is common. Hypoxemia is defined as having low levels of oxygen in the blood. When this occurs, other parts of the body cannot get the oxygen they need. As a result, they begin to shut down and can eventually cause death.

 The A4M shared six factors raising questions about COVID-19 as a respiratory issue. These factors range from ventilators not working as well as anticipated to a recurring, consistent loss of taste and smell for some patients. Furthermore, A4M cites hypoxemia as an additional outlying condition disrupting how we are currently viewing the coronavirus. Hypoxia affects the blood and not the respiratory system. They state, “new information on this virus’s cellular process in the body is revealing that the final condition of the lungs and accompanying respiratory failure may actually be more of a case of massive oxidative stress overload disrupting the capacity of hemoglobin to carry oxygen to tissues rather than an outright attack on the air sacs in the lungs.” 

The role of nutraceuticals and botanicals for treatment development 

Due to its relationship to zinc, hydroxychloroquine has shown promise as a potential treatment for COVID-19, according to the A4M. In part, this may be because hydroxychloroquine aids the process of zinc entering into cells. When intracellular concentrations of zinc are increased, it displays broad spectrum antiviral activity. Hydroxychloroquine is also known as an anti-malarial treatment, says the A4M.

Equally, high dose vitamin C is also being looked at because it may mitigate the effects of the coronavirus by suppressing the over-reactive inflammatory response in the lungs, minimizing the accumulation of immune cells in the tissues of the lungs, decreasing the release of cytokines, slowing down the viruses’ ability to reproduce and spread, and neutralizing the oxidative stress caused by increased amounts of iron floating around in the bloodstream. Glutathione was also included as a potent antioxidant that could also help neutralize oxidative injury and help balance inflammation. Both zinc and vitamin C appear on the list from IFM, as well.

Hope and new information on the horizon

As we continue to gain ground to better understand COVID-19, we also know more time is needed. Additional research and trial and error are required, as this is the only path for obtaining scientifically proven results. In the meantime, these promising early outcomes and new information offer hope and an array of preventative and treatment options to consider.

As always, please consult your healthcare provider before starting any form of treatment or taking any new supplement. If you have any questions about which supplement or botanical agent is right for you, our pharmacists are Clark Professional Pharmacy can help. You can reach the staff Clark at 734-369-8782 or at clarkpropharmacy@gmail.com

Nathan Worthing, PharmD, is pharmacist and co-owner at Clark Professional Pharmacy. Since 1998, he has been practicing pharmacy in the areas of women’s health, men’s health, and nutrition. In 2001, he was the first pharmacist to be credentialed by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) as a Certified Menopause Practitioner. He is available for appointments with patients and clients to discuss hormone replacement therapy and/or nutritional products.