- Some naturopathic micro-influencers are taking to YouTube and Instagram to recommend megadoses of vitamins to treat coronavirus symptoms.
- One YouTuber, a nurse practitioner for the Love Medical Clinic in Colorado, said the clinic offers shots of 100,000 IU Vitamin D3 to treat a virus — a dose 160 times the recommended daily dose, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Experts told Insider some of these doses could be lethal.
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Since the first case of the coronavirus was reported in December 2019, it has killed at least 2,760 people and infected more than 81,000 in 41 countries.
Medical researchers have yet to develop a vaccine to combat the virus and, as of now, there is no universal antiviral method of treatment that is recommended by officials, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The best prevention methods are to avoid people who are sick, avoid touching your face, and to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
But a community of naturopathic practitioners — medical professionals who may use herbs, food, and natural supplements rather than solely traditional Western medicine — have taken to YouTube to promote alternative medical treatments to the virus.
Some of the advice, like recommending certain herbs and extracts like oregano oil, mullen leaf, garlic, and elderberry, may be harmless, so long as people aren't using them instead of hand-washing, for instance.
But experts are concerned that some of these micro-influencers are telling their followers to take megadoses of vitamins A, C, and D in order to protect themselves from COVID-19, as the virus is known.
Some people on the internet are using vitamin megadoses hundreds of times the recommended daily amount
One YouTuber, a nurse practitioner for the Love Medical Clinic in Colorado, said the clinic's approach to the virus mimics its same approach to different strains of the flu — a high dose shot of vitamin D3 and IV infusions of vitamin C megadoses.
"If you have a flu-like disease, I'm just gonna treat you with vitamin C. I'm not gonna swab your nose to see if you have influenza A or B. I don't care, the treatment is actually the same," they said.
Love Medical Clinic's vitamin C regimen consists of an IV treatment of 15,000 milligrams a day, 166 times the recommended daily amount for men. The clinic also offers shots of 100,000 IU vitamin D3 to treat the coronavirus — a dose 160 times the recommended daily dose, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Andrew W. Saul — a YouTuber who recommends 24,000 milligrams of vitamin C or 266 times the Mayo Clinic's daily dose for men — insists these types of vitamin megadoses can combat viral infections like the flu, a cold, and the coronavirus by strengthening the immune system to prevent people from contracting them altogether.
"It's a good idea to strengthen the immune system because that's all you've got," Saul said. "To fight a virus, if you don't have a specific anti-viral, if you don't have a vaccination for it, you have to rely on your immune system."
Peter Osborne of the Gluten Free Society offered his 56,600 YouTube followers similar advice to help boost immunity in a now-removed video. He said there is no cure for coronavirus yet, but taking daily doses of 5,000 milligrams of vitamin C and 150,000 IUs of vitamin D for three days could help boost the immune system.
He also recommended 25,000 IUs of vitamin A a day for two weeks, which is more than twice the upper recommended limit and, over time, could be toxic.
Saul said in an email to Insider that he stands by his statement, insisting that vitamin dosage limits are "widely misunderstood," and that the NIH guidelines focus on how much a person can "tolerate," which may be much lower than what is "safe." "By analogy, one might say that the volume of ambient background noise that a sleeping infant will tolerate is far lower than the limit that would begin to cause eardrum damage."
Research suggests such levels would be risky.
Osborne referred Insider to an interview he did with the New York Post, in which he said he acknowledges there's no cure for the coronovirus and his recommendations are meant to be preventative, temporary, and not for everyone.
"I'm not advocating … that people treat their diseases with vitamins," he told the Post. "The higher doses are a prevention method" that will "help your immune system be better prepared to fend-off [a virus]."
He also pointed Insider to research showing that high doses of vitamins A, C, and D have been shown to be safe in certain populations, and noted that there are no known cases of vitamin C overdose deaths and the only reported death from too much natural vitamin A was "an infant consuming a massive amount of liver by accident."
The nurse practitioner did not respond to Insider's request for comment.
Experts say megadosing certain vitamins can be dangerous, even deadly
The average adult man should get 900 micrograms of vitamin A "retinol activity equivalents" daily, while women should get 700, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Most Americans get enough from their diet alone.
The safe upper limit is 3,000 mcg or 10,000 IUs, and exceeding that can have serious consequences including dizziness, nausea, headaches, coma, and even death, according to ODS. Overdosing on the vitamin while pregnant can lead to birth defects.
As for vitamin D, which Osborne recommends 150,000 IUs a day of, the safe upper limit for adults is only 4,000. Beyond stomach distress and vomiting, exceeding that can raise blood levels of calcium, leading to confusion, disorientation, heart rhythm problems, and kidney damage.
And, while taking high doses of vitamin C is less risky since it's water-soluble, meaning you'll pee out excess, doses to the level of Saul's recommendations — 24,000 a day when the safe upper limit for adults is 2,000 — can lead to diarrhea, nausea, and cramping.
"The danger of using non-mainstream therapies is that many of these have side effects that are not well understood or publicized, as well as potentially dangerous interactions with medications that patients are already taking," infectious disease specialist Dr. Sandra Kesh, deputy medical director at Westmed Medical Group in Purchase, New York, told Insider.
"In trying to solve this problem with non-traditional approaches, patients run the risk of putting themselves at greater risk than the infection itself."
Editor's note: This article was updated on March 3 to include Dr. Osborne's comments and correct a photo caption.