This was a recent conversation in a WhatsApp group. Person 1: I have been chomping vitamin C tablets for several days now and they are not bad at all.
Person 2: Yes, they are so yummy.
Medical researchers are trying to understand why factual information from medical authorities gets only a few views while information on YouTube, TikTok and some such social media platforms get millions of viewers. In this article, I will address the most common Covid-19 prevention discussions going around. They are steaming, vitamin C and D, and Zinc. While on their own, there is nothing specifically wrong with any of these. However, there is a risk of overdoing them and believing in them as a prevention for Covid-19, which they are not.
In general, we must all remember that the only way to prevent Covid-19 infection and spread is to wear our masks, covering the nose and mouth all the time we are with someone whom we do not live with within the same home, wash hands regularly with soap and water or use approved sanitizers, keep at least 6 feet distance from people.
There is a lot of misinformation claiming that ending the virus is “remarkably easy” and only requires a few days of 20-minute sessions in a sauna. No sauna? No problem. Simply spray water onto your face and aim the hot air from a blow dryer up your nose for 5 minutes twice a day or better still, put hot water into a basin and cover your head over it. Steamers in Uganda now cost up to 100,000 shillings. Unfortunately, there have been reports of people who have died in the process of steaming, even in Uganda. One, who was steaming over a self-made sauna using charcoal died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Another died from lack of oxygen and burning from the extremely hot steam.
There have been multiple cases of people admitted to hospital with scalded airways and worsened asthma from steaming. Moreover, some people use essential oils like eucalyptus oil for steaming. Yet the over use of these oils may stimulate the brain and cause convulsions. Note should be taken that there has been an increase in people being admitted since the promotion of steaming as a Covid-19 prevention and cure.
All people must have the required amount of Vitamin C daily even when you feel healthy because it helps to boost the immune system which is important in protecting against diseases as well as fighting off infections. Common Vitamin C foods in the African setting include foods like; citrus fruits, guava, mango, papaya, green leafy vegetables, green chilli, potato, green peppers, and tomatoes.
However, it must be noted that vitamin C neither prevents nor cures Covid-19. Also, for most people, vitamin C from food is enough to get all its benefits without needing to supplement. Too much vitamin C is toxic and leads to a disease called hypervitaminosis C. The signs include; diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal upset, heartburn, headache and insomnia.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium (which is important for building bones) from food. Although Vitamin D is produced in the skin, it requires exposure to sunlight. Covid-19 lockdown meant that most people in the world have been indoors more than usual. It was on this premise that doctors recommended that people take vitamin D supplements to maintain bone and muscle health during the autumn and winter months and not to prevent Covid-19.
People who live in places where they do not get sufficient exposure to sunshine daily should obtain their Vitamin D from foods such as; fortified milk, fortified juice, cereal, and fish or as a supplement. The best time to get your vitamin D is when your shadow is shorter than your height.
Note though that too much vitamin D may cause a disease called hypervitaminosis D which leads to abnormally high levels of calcium in the blood. High blood calcium causes kidney stones, nausea, frequent vomiting, constipation, excessive thirst, excessive urination, confusion and weight loss. It has also been connected to cancer risk, heart problems, and an increased risk of bone fractures.
All the cells and organs of the body require zinc. Zinc is also important for the functioning of the immune system. Without zinc, a person can neither taste nor smell. People who have insufficient levels of zinc fall sick more easily and cannot fight infections adequately.
It is for this reason that people who are zinc deficient have worse outcomes with Covid-19 but it does not prevent Covid-19. It is however important to remember that most healthy adults have sufficient zinc in their bodies. It is mainly the elderly who are deficient.
Zinc can be obtained through diet. The highest source of zinc in the African diet is red meat. Other types of meat also contain zinc but less than 50% of the daily required amount. Legumes contain less than 10% of the required daily value. Consuming too much zinc can lead to nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, and headaches, and can disrupt the absorption of copper and iron in the long term. Above all, Remember: Mask, sanitize, keep 6 feet apart.
Dr. Miriam O. Laker-Oketta
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