Image description: ultrastructural of the coronavirus
After being encouraged by my parents to take daily turmeric supplements to “prevent corona”, I thought it would interesting to look into the kind of self-prescribed medicine and debunk the myths that have been infesting WhatsApp groups and social media. It is understandable in this time of global anxiety that many people want to make sure they are doing everything in their power to remain healthy, with the rising threat corona brings to our lives; people like to have a sense of control.
However, one issue that arises from this free time and growing unease is the remarkable amount of misinformation being created and consumed daily. Globally individuals are preaching a variety of home remedies to cure or significantly prevent the virus,two very bold claims. These range from miracle immune boosting superfoods to ingesting potentially harmful substances.
Don’t get me wrong, growing up in an Indian household, the importance of diet and ayurvedic medicine (a form of alternative medicine) has been a nourishing part of my life. I can definitely see sense in exploring the benefits of ingredients like nuts, yogurt and citrus as part of a generally healthy diet. Although, the claim of ‘boosting your immune system’ through making all your food extra garlicy is not a scientifically backed one. Garlic, which has been said to help prevent corona, has been claimed to slow the spread of some types of bacteria but Covid-19 is a virus.
Instead the way to care for your body and subsequently your immune system during this time is to try, where possible, to get enough sleep, cut out smoking, do exercise and eat balanced meals. These vitamins and other key ingredients, when taken in moderation, are certainly not doing any harm but the naïve belief such foods can make you immune to the virus is worrying; as individuals may be less likely to take precaution or get particularly distressed upon catching the virus even with these measures in place.
Besides diet some advice from the world of alternate medicine which claim to be of some benefit are tips like encouraging the addition of supplements, recommended by naturopaths, certain herbal teas that could help prevent the virus and aromatherapists suggesting some essential oils can act as an antiviral that will help to avoid infection. However, there is contradictory evidence on these and most of it seems to based in exploiting consumers to sell such products. Regarding supplements, for those without deficiencies, it is not necessary to take these vitamins.
The claim of ‘boosting your immune system’ through making all your food extra garlicy is not a scientifically backed one.
Even more worrying are the other extreme “treatments” suggested for coronavirus, which may be doing harm. Using cow urine to replace disinfectant has been suggested, potentially based on some research in India a few years ago that tried to seek out alternatives for chemical based phenyl. Drinking bleach/ spraying it onto skin and even snorting cocaine are also suggested to kill the disease. An Iranian news report had confirmed that hundreds have died and many poisoned, after drinking alcohol(which is prohibited in Iran) following the rumour that alcohol would help cure or prevent the corona virus. Some homeopaths have claimed they have a cure suggesting colloidal silver can help the immune system which actually can cause kidney damage and turn the skin a permanent bluish colour. Even some acupuncturists assert they can assist in the fight against corona virus because acupuncture supposedly helps to balance organic systems, which is claimed to be able to save lives.
As important as staying hydrated is, especially when having symptoms of the virus, there have also been many water based remedies that suggest you can ‘drown the virus’ which is not scientifically plausible. Another claim that has been spread is the belief this virus can not withstand hot weather though According to Dr. Marc Lipsitch at the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard School of Public Health, there is expected to be slowing down in warmer weather but this decline is not likely to be significant enough to slow transmission of the virus. This idea has also lead people to use blow dryers on their face or believe hand dryers can kill the disease without washing hands.
Antibiotics are also something individuals are turning to. Often misused, this causes resistance for the drug to work; and in this time there is greater of risk of this. Due to many taking antibiotics even though the corona virus is not the same microbe as a bacteria; which is what antibiotics work against. All of these claims have no scientific evidence and leech upon the fear of the community in order to spread. Suddenly everyone is an expert. It seems to be working though, as demand for such products have increased and the marketing around it. Not only are these claims adding fuel to the fire but confusion, and subjecting people to harmful products and procedures; this takes away from helpful strategies.
Suddenly everyone’s an expert
Even in recent weeks, the conspiracy that 5G is spreading coronavirus is another piece of false information circulating. Platforms like YouTube are taking down such videos on the topic and the national medical director of NHS England, Stephen Powis, spoke out to say any connection between 5G and coronavirus is “utter rubbish”.There has been some policy reaction to the marketing of unproven alternative with some companies having to issue public notices on their ‘false and misleading statements’. The question is whether we as a society should start to take a stronger and more coherent stand against pseudoscience and false information spreading during this time.
A bigger debate looks into whether we can really say any science is proven as it is based on the idea of induction(it has worked well in the past so it must always work) The new trial drugs Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine seem promising , however both have potentially severe, side effects like heart failure if used inappropriately. The important message is to look at the context of such claims and evaluate them before you choose to follow or share them; and remember there are no proven methods for treating Corona in these early stages but please wash your hands.
Image credit: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)