Pharmacist predicts increased interest in supplements, immune support amid COVID-19 pandemic

April 7, 2020

Nutritional Outlook spoke with Sherry Torkos, BScPhm, RPh, a holistic pharmacist, author, and medical adviser for probiotics.com, about consumers’ interest in supplements amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the coronavirus upends everyday life and heightens consumers’ fears and worries about their health, supplements are increasingly sought after as a natural way to boost immunity. Nutritional Outlook spoke with Sherry Torkos, BScPhm, RPh, a holistic pharmacist, author, and medical adviser for probiotics.com, about consumers’ interest in supplements amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which supplements support immune health, how to debunk claims from shady brands, and more.

NO:While we know that supplements are not a treatment for disease, do you anticipate seeing increased interest from consumers in immune-health or other supplements during the COVID-19 pandemic? What kind of increased interest are you seeing, and what kind of questions are you getting from patients?

Torkos: There has been a tremendous increase in demand at the pharmacy for supplements that support immune health such as vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, elderberry, and probiotics. I’m fielding questions from patients about what to take for immune support, how to manage symptoms of a respiratory infection, and what can help speed recovery.

NO:Do you think consumers understand that supplements cannot treat or prevent COVID-19?

Torkos: Most do, however, I think many people are hopeful that taking supplements will help support their immune system.

NO:What types of supplements can consumers incorporate to support and boost immunity and overall health during this challenging time? What kinds of products are they looking for?

Torkos: I always recommend supplements that have clinically researched ingredients and have been shown to offer benefits for supporting immune health. My top recommendations are Echinaforce Echinacea, Kyo-Dophilus Probiotics by Wakunaga, Ester-C Vitamin C, and Sambucol Black Elderberry.

NO:Which immune-health ingredients are patients most aware of?

Torkos: Vitamin C is probably the best known vitamin for immune health in addition to zinc, elderberry, and probiotics. I serve as a medical advisor for probiotics.com. On the site, I answer many questions regarding the benefits of probiotics for immune health.

NO: As a pharmacist, how are you incorporating recommendations for supplementation, food, and exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Torkos: People should follow lifestyle habits that support their immune system, including eating healthy and avoiding junk food and sugar, getting regular exercise (there’s plenty of free online resources if you are in lockdown or quarantine), reducing stress as much as possible by engaging in activities that are not focused on news alerts and headlines, and getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night. For supplementation, I recommend taking immune-health supplements such as vitamins C and D, zinc, and probiotics-take them every day, not just when you think you are feeling rundown.  

NO:Where are patients purchasing supplements these days?

Torkos: More people are buying supplements online; however, pharmacy and health-food store sales are still strong. I encourage people to buy from local businesses whenever possible. Many stores offer online delivery or curbside pick-up options for call-ahead orders.

NO: How concerned are you about bad-actor companies selling consumers products illegally marketed as dietary supplements that claim to prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19?

Torkos: Unscrupulous companies will try to profit off of people’s fears about coronavirus. When considering taking a new brand of supplement, check to see who makes it and if there is any clinical research behind their ingredients. Avoid brands that make too-good-to-be-true claims. There are no supplements that have been proven to cure or treat coronavirus or any disease, so if anything on the company’s marketing material makes these claims, stay away. This is another good reason to buy from your local pharmacy or health-food store, as they will generally only stock reputable brands. Plus, they are held more accountable to what they are selling, unlike third-party online stores.

NO:Where can consumers go to find reliable information about immune-health supplements amid the Coronavirus?

Torkos:The National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements is a reliable source. For information about probiotics, gut, and immune health, visit probiotics.com. And for information on science and research about the immune system, click here.