March 02, 2020

Seasonal interest in bolstering immunity has been heightened this year as coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread throughout the world. While experts warn that some may take advantage of consumers by peddling “miracle cures,” some members of the industry have highlighted how a strong immune system is one element of fighting viruses. Kerry notes that clinical research has demonstrated its yeast beta-glucan Wellmune may help support upper respiratory tract infections, while Cymbiotika’s new silver supplement is touted as providing immune defense. However, the US-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has warned of other silver dietary supplements that are misleading people seeking COVID-19 cures.

Despite a deluge of false information about ways to ward off COVID-19, nutrition and supplements surely can play a role in keeping the body healthy and more prepared to deal with illness in general, states Jeff Crowther, Executive Director of Health Products Association-China, a US non-profit association dedicated to the overall natural health products industry. 

One example of this is Kerry’s Wellmune, which the company says can support the immune system of people, including children, athletes, older adults and those with lifestyle stress. Wellmune notes that a healthy immune system is the best defense against illness, although there is no specific research demonstrating the effectiveness of Wellmune against illnesses like COVID-19. 

“With immune health’s popularity growing, we’re seeing a great deal of interest in Wellmune, our proprietary baker’s yeast beta 1,3/1,6 glucan. Beta-glucans can be found naturally in many foods, including baker’s yeast, shiitake mushrooms and cereal grains, but not all beta-glucan sources provide immune health benefits. Wellmune does, and is backed by a wealth of scientific evidence proving its benefits for everyday immune support and upper respiratory health. It’s the only yeast beta-glucan ingredient supported by more than a dozen published, peer-reviewed clinical studies,” John Quilter, VP and General Manager for Kerry, tells NutritionInsight

Don Cox, Director of R&D at Wellmune explains the Wellmune is taken up into the body through specialized immune tissue in the intestines. There, immune cells engulf it and break it down into smaller fragments which bind to neutrophils, the most abundant immune cells in the body. Primed by Wellmune, neutrophils move more quickly to recognize and kill foreign challenges.

Consumer research from Kerry also indicates that immune health is the most sought-after health benefit for consumers across the world. “This is driven partly by growing interest in functional ingredients generally, and the fact that consumers are increasingly proactive when it comes to their health. And of course, the current levels of concern about COVID-19 will only increase interest,” notes Cox. 

The company does note that traditional methods of maintaining immune health are still important, such as washing hands frequently, getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet. Cox states that misinformation is always a concern, and that people should consult with their physician before taking any nutritional supplement.

In the immunity space, a recent NutritionInsight piece discussed how the face of immunity is changing with experts from Arjuna and PharmaLinea. The need for ironclad scientific backing in the face of “fake news” on social media is emerging as a key theme. Additionally, people are now viewing health from a proactive perspective instead of only seeking assistance once already sick. 

A silver bullet?
Also in the immunity arena, Cymbiotika has recently launched Coated Silver, which contains a high concentration of pure colloidal silver. The US-based dietary supplement brand says it can act as a mineral antibiotic that can neutralize viruses, fungus, yeast and mold when taken internally and used topically. Jafarieh explains that when in contact with the body, silver surrounds bacteria, pathogens and single cell viruses, causing them to perish. 

While Coated Silver is not marketed in any way to be a cure for COVID-19, Chervin Jafarieh, Founder of Cymbiotika, tells NutritionInsight that bolstering the immune system in any capacity is beneficial against COVID-19. “All of our products, not just our Coated Silver, greatly influence the immune system. The only drawback is not enough people having access to our robust line of quality products,” he states. 

“In terms of misinformation, you will always have individuals that see an opportunity to turn a quick profit. When there is a public scare, the human mind is always searching for a solution. We don’t claim to cure anything; what we do promote is long-term nutritional health. All of our products are scientifically proven to be beneficial for everyone. We never get rattled in moments like this, we stay level-headed and follow the facts,” Jafarieh continues.

Capitalizing on fears
CSPI also notes that some parties have been taking advantage of consumer fears surrounding COVID-19. “When a new public health threat arises, set your watch,” says CSPI President Dr. Peter Lurie. “Whether it’s anthrax, SARS or swine flu, hucksters will emerge like clockwork to promote worthless pills and potions. Regulators at FDA and the FTC should act quickly to protect consumers from any supplement maker who claims their product will prevent, cure or ‘deactivate’ coronavirus.”

In light of this, the organization is highlighting that there is no evidence that the element silver prevents or treats any condition, according to authorities such as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (part of the National Institutes of Health) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Taken orally, silver can also lead to argyria, which causes the skin to permanently develop gray or blue discoloration. 

While the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have previously sent warning letters to some companies marketing colloidal silver as disease cures, CSPI is now urging the organizations to take immediate enforcement action against the marketing of another silver product. It notes that televangelist Jim Bakker has been using his show to advance the claim that Silver Solution dietary supplement products available in his online store can cure the COVID-19 “within 12 hours.”

CSPI notes that because Bakker’s silver products are marketed for the prevention or cure of a disease – including coronavirus, HIV and venereal disease – the FDA should treat Bakker’s silver products as unapproved drugs. 

Last month, NutritionInsight examined some of the other supposed COVID-19 “cures” circulating on social media, from bleach to avoiding cold drinks. As a result, the Natural Products Association (NPA) has also called on the FDA to take action against supplements claiming to fight coronavirus. 

Additionally, COVID-19 has impacted the supply chains of numerous companies. However, as of early February, many businesses were remaining optimistic that the epidemic will pass quickly, most notably with Lonza resuming production at the majority of its Chinese facilities. 

By Katherine Durrell


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