COVID-19: Do supplements help?

Famine to feast

The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a flood of clinical trials on dietary supplements, as researchers race to evaluate nutritional products that may help to fend off one of the deadliest viruses the world has seen in modern times.

The University of Michigan’s Mark Moyad, MD, MPH, considered to be one of the leading global medical authorities on dietary supplements, says today’s high level of interest and research on supplements is unprecedented in his 30-year career as a public health educator and clinical/medical epidemiologist.

“We’ve gone from famine to feast because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Moyad says. “By last count, there were several hundred ongoing clinical trials on supplements.”

Moyad holds an endowed position as the Jenkins/Pokempner Director of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Education in U-M’s Urology Department. His endowment was funded and created in 1998-99, shortly after he joined the Medical School staff. It was one of the first of its kind established globally at a major medical center to advance research and objective education on dietary supplements, over-the-counter (OTC) products, and other potential health options.

Fast track

The vitamin and dietary supplement manufacturing industry has grown exponentially over the past three decades, Moyad says. Today, nutrition is a $35-billion industry in the U.S. and a nearly $120-billion industry worldwide.

American consumers shell out upwards of $46 billion annually on vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, enzymes, and other OTC products, including many made overseas. Some of the most popular supplements are multivitamins, digestive enzymes, melatonin, vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, calcium, and zinc.

“When I was in my 20s, there were hundreds of supplement products sold over the counter,” Moyad says. “Now I’m in my late 50s, and there are more than 100,000 OTC products. It is one of the biggest and fastest-growing areas in medicine.”

For years, many practitioners in the traditional medical community have viewed the loosely regulated supplement industry with skepticism. That perception is gradually changing, Moyad says, as the supplement industry begins to embrace a multiphase product-development process.

“Some of the current COVID-inspired clinical trials on supplements are methodologically sound,” he says. “I believe we can achieve a threshold of efficacy, or proof, that is similar to what you see in the pharmaceutical industry. We’re definitely moving in that direction.”

He cites the recent results of the Harvard-affiliated VITAL study, which demonstrated the potential of moderate daily dosages of vitamin D3 (2,000 IU) supplements or fish oil (1,000 mg) to reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases compared to a placebo in over 25,000 participants.

Supplements and COVID-19

Mark Moyad

Mark Moyad, MD, MPH, Jenkins/Pokempner Director of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Education in U-M’s Urology Department.

Medical researchers are now conducting outpatient and inpatient studies to determine whether specific supplements will enable healthy individuals to ward off COVID-19 and help patients with severe illness shorten their stay in the hospital.

Preliminary results seem to suggest supplements may be more effective in improving immunity and lessening the chances of contracting COVID than in speeding the recovery of very sick individuals, Moyad says.

“COVID-19 is a highly specific disease that has required highly specific FDA-approved vaccines and antiviral drugs to stop it,” he says. “It’s like a lock and key. I don’t think you are going to get that kind of specificity from taking supplements once someone has been hospitalized with severe COVID.”

One inpatient study conducted in Brazil compared the recovery rates between COVID-19 patients who received a single dose of 200,000 IU of vitamin D and those who were given a placebo. Early results indicated the high dose of vitamin D did not reduce the length of hospitalization.

“I’m most excited about the outpatient trials that are looking at whether supplements can help reduce people’s risk of contracting COVID or when someone has a mild case, to help prevent progression of symptoms and avoid hospitalization,” Moyad says.

Going to trial

Two major U.S. studies on supplements may provide some answers.

For one study, Harvard Medical School is collaborating with major medical institutions and industry partners on the Vitamin D and COVID-19 Trial (VIVID). Clinical researchers are investigating whether taking a daily dietary supplement of vitamin D for four weeks reduces the disease severity in participants who are newly diagnosed with COVID-19 and lowers the risk of transmission to other members of their household. The national randomized clinical trial involves 2,700 men and women who are given either a high dose of vitamin D3 (9,600 IU per day on days 1-2 and 3,200 IU per day on days 3-28) or a placebo.

A second high-profile COVID clinical trial, being conducted by Mayo Clinic, is comparing the effect of high-dose (69.6 mg per day) zinc supplementation versus multivitamin supplementation on immune health in 2,700 people who are at high risk for COVID -19, including health-care workers. Participants randomly receive PreserVision AREDS formulation gel tabs (which contain a high level of zinc) or Adult (under 50) Centrum formulation multivitamins.

A third promising inquiry, taking place in the U.K., is the ELVIS COVID-19 study at the University of Edinburgh. There, researchers are exploring whether a saline solution for nasal washes and gargling ― which has been found to shorten the duration of the common cold ― can lessen the symptoms and length of the COVID-19 illness. Up to 30 percent of colds are caused by four different coronaviruses, and COVID is caused by a separate member of the same coronavirus family, so they share some similarities and differences.

Closer to home, Moyad, with the help of generous donors, has established an endowment with the eventual goal of increasing research funding for Michigan medical students and faculty who are interested in conducting studies on lifestyle and supplements. He also collaborates with other major universities on clinical trials.

Back to basics

Until more clinical data are available, medical researchers will not know conclusively which supplements, if any, are effective against COVID-19.

In the meantime, Moyad cautions people about becoming too enamored with pills.

Instead, he urges everyone to “get back to the basics” of a healthy lifestyle. This entails monitoring and improving the “5Bs”: blood cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, and BMI/belly fat (aka healthy weight/waist loss). He also emphasizes the importance of immune boosting (the fifth B) by staying up to date on all vaccinations, including those for COVID-19.

“What we’ve learned in the pandemic is that making lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease could, in some cases, mean the difference between a mild and severe case of COVID-19,” Moyad says. “Many things that are heart-healthy also improve your immune health.”

For example, a 2021 Kaiser Permanente study of nearly 50,000 people with COVID-19 suggested regular physical activity provided strong protection from hospitalization, intensive-care-unit admission, and death. Sedentary individuals, on the other hand, had poor outcomes from COVID during the pandemic.

Likewise, a 2022 Cleveland Clinic study showed that patients with obesity who had undergone weight-loss surgery and shed excess pounds were able to reduce their risk for developing severe COVID-19 complications by 60 percent.

“There’s no magic supplement,” Moyad says. “But maintaining a healthy lifestyle can provide some protection and also pay off by keeping you out of the hospital for other reasons.”


  1. Sam Smith

    This is the typical whitewash piece by an intellectual instrument of the criminal establishment.

    There is lots of REAL-LIFE evidence that various supplements work very effectively in the case of Covid ( rather than relying on cherry-picked flawed or fraudulent “scientific” studies from a research body serving corrupt official medicine.

    The distortion and censorship of the value of supplements against Covid is part of the century-long organized war against unofficial medicine perpetrated by the criminals owning, controlling, and serving the government-allied allopathic medical establishment (see source cited above).


  2. Marilyn Alvey - 1975 B.S. RDH

    Sam Smith, thank you, thank you! You just made my morning! Today’s medical professionals sound so clueless and haughty when it comes to nutrition. Doctors are actually taught in medical school that vitamins are “expensive urine” and the role of the natural immune system is totally ignored. Our medical establishment changed In the early 1900’s from a holistic approach to one based solely on pharmaceutical drugs. Obesity is a major factor in Covid deaths. When one is obese, the immune system is weak, low in Vit D and glutathione…. this is basic physiology. So why aren’t doctors checking Vit D levels and supplementing for prevention? Why wasn’t the State of Michigan aggressively doing health assessments and passing out healthy food in underserved communities?? I attended a 2-1/2 hour symposium this week by a neurosurgeon and a doctor that left Henry Ford because of all the mishandling of Covid patients. These doctors have been shunned and criticized for their early, aggressive treatment with a variety of therapeutics….they have saved hundreds and thousands of lives. What kind of a treatment plan is it to tell a person that tests positive for a deadly disease “Go home and isolate and go to the hospital when you can’t breathe”? If I had done that at my job, I would have been sued for supervised neglect. I hope this is a wake up call that our medical system needs reforming. Be your own advocate and ask your doctor why they aren’t checking your vitamin levels and boosting your immune system. Despite the billions $$ we spend on “Health Care” , the U.S. is one of the unhealthiest countries in the world.


  3. Ban Nike - 1985

    Not much new in the article. MATH+/FLCCC Alliance protocols well researched and updated with the science. As for Henry Ford, docs involved with the HCQ research have been threatened into silence on their positive findings. Whitmer threatens licenses of those that prescribe. It is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in medicine. I’ve never seen where we can’t have a free exchange of ideas. Go to a tumor board— have you have seen 100% agreement at the beginning of the meeting on how to treat a cancer patient? Or do the stakeholders bring their expertise to the table and it gets hashed out. Even then, it’s not like a light bulb goes off with one correct answer .
    I turned down an IHS position because they wanted me to see all their Covid patients but “full stop—- you won’t be giving any zinc or vitamin C here”.
    It’s just crazy.


  4. RICHARD HARRIS - 1985 University of Nevada School of Medicine 1994 U Of M Anesthesiology and Fellowship in Pain Management

    I find that the jump to “well of course supplements work” because the “regular medicine establishment” has always been dismissive of supplements to be scientifically illiterate at best and grossly ignorant at worst so as to have no value whatsoever. There is a need for good studies to provide comprehensive evidence about any treatment and its efficacy against Covid, the common cold, or cancer for that matter. There is no such evidence yet available, so that one cannot make any comprehensive statements one way or the other about supplement use in Covid therapy. That does not mean that the door is closed on supplements, nor does it mean that it is open to their use. That the scientific method is slow and often tedious, does not give one the ability to either support nor deny the potential options of a given therapy until the data is in and evaluated. We cannot simply run out shouting ” the supplements work because I say so” as such behavior leads to the cynicism about supplements because of jumping the gun before data is available to support that position. For every study that supports supplement use in a given medical condition, there are inevitably 10 to 15 studies refuting such pronunciations. Supplements are deemed to be not useful most of the time because most of the time they are not useful when studied in a scientific manner. We need to continue the studies because without them we have no ability to either support or refute their use. Let us simply follow the appropriate scientific methodology in studying all options for treatment and then we can make good medical decisions to help our patients while avoiding those treatments which have no value or are harmful to the patient.


  5. John Job - 1984 BSChE

    I applaud this article for pointing out that scientifically disciplined clinical trials are now being performed to show that supplements and a healthy lifestyle have a statistically significant effect on the outcome of exposure to major viruses such as Covid-19. I had no idea that so many respected institutions (Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Harvard Medical School, Kaiser Permanente), were involved in these studies, but it does make sense. Big pharma needs a block buster drug that saves people after they are well down the road to full blown disease. There is not a big profit to be made from discovering that regular physical activity and taking OTC supplements is the best way to avoid cardiovascular disease or avoid hospitalization after contracting Covid-19. The statistically significant proof has to come from our high learning institutions, which get grants to find the truth! These objective institutions are not paid to perform the math to make the drug discovered look as effective as possible. Look at the statin studies, which of course were funded by Big Pharma. There is a lot of pressure to turn years of studies and high research costs into a block buster drug that stays on patten for 15 to 20 years. We are finding out that statin drug’s actual efficacy to reduce the frequency of heart attack or stroke has been greatly exaggeration. The message should have been “if you can’t stay a healthy weight, you can take this statin and it may keep you alive longer” instead of “don’t worry about being overweight and sedentary, we have this great pill for you to take”. Doctors should be required to give the same hard message, not be their patients enablers.
    Going a step further, I believe medical insurance companies will want the statistical results of these studies so they can adjust the premium they charge patients for their individual lifestyle choices. I am not talking about pre-existing conditions. If you choose to smoke, we know how much more likely the person is to develop serious health problems so that additional risk is already defined. If you chose to be overweight and sedentary, your medical coverage should be adjusted accordingly. If you chose not to get vaccinated against serious viruses such as Covid-19, again your medical insurance company would really like to know the increase in the potential for serious disease and hospitalization. If insurance companies can’t do the math properly, they go out of business. Hiding risky lifestyle choices, which drive very expensive medical care and hospitalizations, because you are just one of thousands of employees at a big corporation just enables the bad lifestyle choices. I’m talking about encouraging individuals to make better choices, or at least letting them continue in their sedentary ways but then they need to pay for the additional risk. It is a pillar of the free market and capitalism to have “full” information whether you’re buying stocks, setting up a new business or assessing actuarial risk.


  6. Jen Jones - 2002

    I’m saddened to see that the comments for Michigan Today articles have become another place for antiscience covidiots like Sam Smith to disseminate their misinformation. You used to be able to reply to comments but you can’t do that anymore.

    Is there a admin who monitors these comments? Or at least someone we could report them to?


  7. Kari Dumbeck - 1981

    It’s one thing to read the article but it’s another to believe what is being said. They can do as many studies as they want but that doesn’t make them reliable. The current plandemic was started after WorldWar II and the elites of this World are pushing for control and now it’s happening. NIH and FDA are paid for by the CDC, which is paid for the big pharma. Google is not a trusting source either, for they too are controlled by big pharma. Bill Gates owns the most land and farms are being shut down. Bill Gates is the biggest investor in drugs and he has been very open about what he plans to do to our World. Why would vitamin D, NAC, Glutythion, Hydroxichloriquin be taken off the market if they are known to help, or stop the Corona (King or Vipor) Virus(Venum)? Do you due diligence and learn for yourself. Vitamins have long been studied and their known results. They work and don’t cost a lot of money. That’s the bottom line.


  8. Kris Olson - 1977

    I have been a practitioner of Chinese and Modern Functional Medicine for many years. I have found the whole suppression of information on natural products extremely disconcerting. The article above does not even cite some ot the better vitamin D studies, done by well regarded scientists since the 1990s. Many of these studies point out that the “sweet spot” for serum vitamin D levels is between 50-60 ng/ml. This level should be maintained over time. Giving someone high doses of vitamin D in the midst of serious Covid is essentially useless.
    Part of the problem is the age-old debate about terrain vs pathogen( Pasteur vs Beauchamp). In Chinese medicine we mostly deal with the terrain. So if someone is dealing with “wind-cold” or “damp-heat”, we treat these conditions so that disease will not arise. Refer also to bio-dynamic farming where they show that plants grown in soil with the right nutrients and microbes are much less likely to attract pests. In the world of nature, pests, pathogens and predators are designed to take out the sickly ones.
    In natural medicine, we also deal with “stages of disease”. We would not treat a person who is just coming down with Covid the same way we would treat someone on a ventilator. At an A4M conference, a doctor reported that they found that most of the people in the ICU with Covid had low TSH levels. Supplementing with levothyroxine helped them improve (anecdotal). The bottom line is that most healthy people will survive Covid.
    Why does the US have the highest fatality level from Covid? We are overweight, stressed, diabetic, inert and living on junk food, all supported by Big Ag, Big Chem, Big Pharma, “Sickness Insurance”, etc.
    I believe that the time has come for change– we need people to get healthy. We were lucky that this pandemic was caused by a coronavirus instead of something more deadly, like Ebola. Next time we might not be so lucky.


  9. peggy harris - 2015

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