BACK

Are any foods or drinks, alone or in combination, effective in treating or curing COVID-19?

Update

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many reports that claim certain home remedies, foods, herbs, spices, or supplements may prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19. There are many things, like taking warm baths, getting plenty of rest, or eating and drinking honey, lemon, tea, ginger, and other foods that may help people feel better when they are sick. Even though they may help us to feel better, it does not mean that those home remedies cure an illness or infection. In addition, though a varied and balanced diet including fruits and vegetables does help to support the immune system in general, there is no evidence to suggest that special diets, consumption of particular foods, or taking vitamin, mineral, or herbal supplements will prevent, treat or cure COVID-19.

This article was published on
March 4, 2021

This explainer is more than 90 days old. Some of the information might be out of date or no longer relevant. Browse our homepage for up to date content or request information about a specific topic from our team of scientists.

Publication

What our experts say

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many reports that claim certain home remedies, foods, herbs, spices, or supplements may prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19. There are many things, like taking warm baths, getting plenty of rest, or eating and drinking honey, lemon, tea, ginger, and other foods that may help people feel better when they are sick. Even though they may help us to feel better, it does not mean that those home remedies cure an illness or infection. In addition, though a varied and balanced diet including fruits and vegetables does help to support the immune system in general, there is no evidence to suggest that special diets, consumption of particular foods, or taking vitamin, mineral, or herbal supplements will prevent, treat or cure COVID-19.

Context and background

There are many home remedies, foods, herbs, and dietary supplements that have been promoted to prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19. While some food and nutrition-based therapies have some links to scientific research, based on previously conducted cellular studies, animal studies, or human studies, there is not significant scientific evidence on their impacts against COVID-19.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and other health authorities have continued to state that caution is needed when considering 'traditional' or home remedies as a treatment for COVID-19. They have added that there is no current scientific evidence suggesting that home remedies, specific foods, or dietary supplements prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19. 

It is important to be aware of possible interactions between medications and some dietary supplements, and there are known risks that accompany supplement use for some patients (i.e, pregnant or lactating women, patients with kidney or liver disease). Some supplement products have been found to not have the components that are advertised on the product packaging, and may contain varied doses, or may contain other contaminants (i.e. heavy metals, pesticides) or additives.

Hot foods or hot drinks (i.e. water, milk, tea): Eating or drinking foods and liquids that are very hot may cause dangerous burns in the mouth and throat. Health experts, including those from the World Health Organization, have suggested that products like tea, warm water, or soup may help us feel better when we are sick, but that does not mean that these items cure or treat disease. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that hot foods or drinks will prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

Tea: Some teas may have health benefits, but evidence is limited because of difficulty studying the possible effect of tea alone. Health experts have suggested that products like ginger, tea, or honey may make us feel better when we are sick, but that does not mean that these items cure or treat disease. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that tea will prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

Hot Khaada (or kadha or karha): Khaada is a drink often made with a combination of herbs, spices, and other additives that may include cloves, black pepper, ginger, basil, cardamom, fennel seeds, honey, ghee, amongst others. It is commonly used to “boost immunity” when people are sick. To date, there are no studies that evaluate Khaada as a therapy for COVID-19, and there is no scientific evidence to suggest that Khaada will prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate): Baking soda, which often used to help baked goods rise, has also been mixed into drinks by people seeking health benefits. While sodium bicarbonate is an active ingredient in some medications like antacids, people who plan to consume baking soda for health reasons on a regular basis should consult with a doctor. Overconsumption of sodium bicarbonate can potentially interact with other medications and/or cause side effects (including stomach cramps and gas, as well as more serious effects that may require medical attention such as swelling in lower limbs and blood in urine).

Lemon: Lemon is a great source of vitamin C and can be part of a healthy diet. The World Health Organization has a specific statement on their website suggesting that there is no current scientific evidence that lemon prevents COVID-19. There is also no scientific evidence that lemon can successfully treat or cure COVID-19.

Pineapple: A variety of fruits (pineapple, mango, durian, and others) all may be included in a well-balanced diet to promote general health and well-being. The World Health Organization has a specific statement on their website suggesting that there is no current scientific evidence that these and other fruits prevent COVID-19. There is also no scientific evidence that fruits can successfully treat or cure COVID-19.

Ginger: As a supplement, ginger is most commonly prescribed to help with nausea. Health experts from the World Health Organization have suggested that products like ginger, tea, or honey may make us feel better when we are sick, but that does not mean that these items cure or treat disease. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that ginger will prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

Honey: Honey may have some wound healing and antibacterial properties, but much of the published research focuses on topical (skin) application, which doesn’t apply to COVID-19 because the virus is an internal infection. While it can be part of a healthy diet, honey is a source of sugar, and leading health organizations recommend limiting dietary sugar intake. Health experts from the World Health Organization have suggested that products like ginger, tea, or honey may make us feel better when we are sick, but that does not mean that these items cure or treat disease. There is also no scientific evidence that honey can successfully treat or cure COVID-19.

Chyawanprash: Chyawanprash is commonly made from honey, ghee, and amla (Indian gooseberry) along with herbs and spices that may include cinnamon, cardamom, and clove amongst others. Many recipes use between 25 and 80 different ingredients. The mixture may be taken as a supplement or mixed with warm water or milk. Since recipes vary widely, there are very few scientific studies that examine effectiveness of Chyawanprash on prevention and treatment of disease. There is no current scientific evidence that Chyawanprash will prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

Clove (Laung): Clove has been shown to have some antibacterial and antifungal properties in laboratory-based tests, but these results have not been tested widely in humans. To date, there are no studies that evaluate cloves as a therapy for COVID-19, and there is no scientific evidence to suggest that cloves will prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

Black pepper (Kali Mirch): Black pepper has been shown to have some antibacterial properties in laboratory-based tests, but these results have not been tested widely in humans. To date, there are no studies that evaluate black pepper as a therapy for COVID-19, and there is no scientific evidence to suggest that black pepper will prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19. Similarly, there is no evidence that adding hot peppers to your food will prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

Turmeric: The primary active compound in turmeric, curcumin, has been extensively studied for its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. In spite of its potential and successes in laboratory-based tests, most clinical trials in humans have not shown an effect, and more studies are needed to determine if or when curcumin may benefit people. Curcumin has not been studied in patients with COVID-19, though clinical trials have been proposed. The World Health Organization has a specific statement on their website suggesting that there is no current scientific evidence that turmeric prevents COVID-19. There is also no scientific evidence that turmeric can successfully treat or cure COVID-19.

Onion: As a member of the same family as garlic, onions are also known to have some antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory qualities, but studies are limited. To date, there are no studies that evaluate onions as a therapy for COVID-19, and there is no scientific evidence to suggest that onions will prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

Garlic: Garlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial and anti-tumor properties, though study results are often mixed and there are limitations, gaps, and shortcomings in the published evidence. While it has been widely studied in preparations as a supplement, extract, and food, there is currently no evidence that garlic will prevent or treat COVID-19. The World Health Organization has a specific statement on their website suggesting that “there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus.” There is also no scientific evidence that garlic can successfully prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

Chili Pepper: Chili peppers are eaten all over the world. They are rich in vitamins, especially vitamins C and A, and have been associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and respiratory diseases in large population studies. It is important to note that the lower risk of death in these studies is an association and does not mean that the chili peppers (or spicy foods in general) prevent death or illness. No studies have been published exploring the use of chili peppers to prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19. The World Health Organization has a statement on their website suggesting that “Hot peppers in your food, though very tasty, cannot prevent or cure COVID-19.”

Zinc: Zinc is a mineral that is used throughout the body and is needed for a healthy immune system. While zinc is available in many foods, use of zinc supplements has been shown to be helpful for wound healing and may shorten the duration of colds and acute diarrhea. Use of zinc should be guided by healthcare providers, since there are known side effects that may result from incorrect dosing. In addition, long-term zinc use is known to cause copper deficiency and is not recommended. There are clinical trials registered to study zinc (often in combinations with other vitamins, minerals, or medications) as a therapy for patients with COVID-19. A recent study of 214 adults explored the effect of high-dose (8000mg) vitamin C (ascorbic acid) both alone and in combination with zinc to see if either or both supplements lessened the severity or length of illness for patients with COVID-19. The researchers did not find a significant benefit for patients who received the study treatments of zinc or vitamin C (alone or together). While zinc may prove to be a helpful therapy for COVID-19 based on its known benefits with other conditions, there is not enough scientific evidence to suggest that zinc supplementation will prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

Selenium: Selenium is a mineral that has many functions in the body; like other minerals, it is needed for a healthy immune system. Selenium is available in many foods and is also available in supplement form. Most selenium studies to date have focused on thyroid disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Recently, there are scientific papers that have been published as “Letters to the Editor” and similar that suggest that selenium may be beneficial, but these papers are largely observational, have many limitations, and have not gone through the rigorous peer-review process to validate the research methods and claims made. Without further validation, they should be interpreted very cautiously. At present, there is not enough scientific evidence to suggest that selenium supplementation will prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

Resources

  1. COVID-19 - virtual press conference, April 2020 (WHO)
  2. In the news: Coronavirus and "Alternative" treatments 2020, (NIH NCCIH)
  3. HealthyatHome: Health Diet, 2020 (WHO)
  4. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Mythbusters (WHO)
  5. Fact or Fiction: Novel Coronavirus 2019 (WHO)
  6. Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects, 2014 (Avicenna J Phytomed)
  7. Anti-infective Properties of the Golden Spice Curcumin, 2019 (Front Microbiol)
  8. Curcumin as a potential treatment for COVID-19, Letter to the Editor, 2020 (Phytotherapy Research)
  9. Turmeric, 2020 (NIH NCCIH)
  10. Tea, 2020 (NIH NCCIH)
  11. Ginger, 2020 (NIH NCCIH)
  12. Safe use of complementary health products and practices, 2020 (NIH NCCIH)
  13. Dietary Supplements, 2020 (Merck Manual)
  14. About Herbs, Botanicals, & Other Products (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center)
  15. Molecular docking, simulation and MM-PBSA studies of nigella sativa compounds: a computational quest to identify potential natural antiviral for COVID-19 treatment, 2020 (J Biomol Struct Dyn)
  16. Zinc, 2020 (NIH)
  17. Association between regional selenium status and reported outcome of COVID-19 cases in China, 2020 (AJCN)
  18. Selenium, 2020 (NIH)
  19. Ayurveda’s immunity boosting measures for self-care during COVID-19 crisis, 2020 (Press Information Bureau, Government of India)
  20. Chyawanprash: A Traditional Indian Bioactive Health Supplement, 2019 (Biomolecules)
  21. Quantification of Immunity Status of Dabur Chyawanprash Review Part-1 (Experimental Studies), 2014 (Indian Journal of Applied Research)
  22. Antibacterial and antifungal activities of spices, 2017 (Int J Mol Sci)
  23. A systematic review on black pepper (Piper nigrum L.): from folk uses to pharmacological applications, 2019 (Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr)
  24. Antibacterial mechanism and activities of black pepper chloroform extract, 2015 (J Food Sci Technol)
  25. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Food safety and nutrition (WHO)
  26. Effect of High-Dose Zinc and Ascorbic Acid Supplementation vs Usual Care on Symptom Length and Reduction Among Ambulatory Patients With SARS-CoV-2 Infection (JAMA)
  27. Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause specific mortality: population based cohort study (BMJ)
  28. The Association of Hot Red Chili Pepper Consumption and Mortality: A Large Population-Based Cohort Study (PLoSOne)
  29. Capsaicin (US NLM)

Media briefing

Media Release

Expert Comments: 

No items found.

Q&A

No items found.