The Print | Logo

Published on the “The Print”-4 September 2020 12:56 pm IST

Doctors are seeing an increasing trend of side-effects in patients that are being caused by taking high doses of self-prescribed natural herbs or medical supplements to boost immunity.

New Delhi: Dr Tejal Lathia, a consulting endocrinologist at the Mumbai-based Apollo and Fortis Hospitals, said she was recently left wondering why a Type 2 diabetes mellitus patient had vitamin D toxicity.

Further investigation revealed the culprits — fear of contracting Covid-19 and a social media barrage on the unproven claim that vitamin D pills boost immunity.

“The patient had seen messages on social media on how vitamin D may help in building immunity against Covid-19. But instead of the recommended dose of one pill a week, she consumed one a day,” Dr Lathia told ThePrint.

High vitamin D levels can spike blood and urine calcium levels which, in turn, can cause nausea, vomiting, dehydration, dizziness, confusion, and drowsiness, among other changes.

“Vitamin D in blood levels greater than 150 ng/ml can cause all these symptoms reflecting toxicity. My patient had a level of 348 ng/ml but luckily did not suffer any consequences,” she said.

The Mumbai doctor added that almost all of her patients are taking immunity boosters in one form or another. “I have been hearing about the immunity boosting measures from all my patients,” she said. “The most-used products are homemade kadhas, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D and medicines like the homoeopathic Arsenicum album.”

And Dr Lathia isn’t alone.

Doctors across the country are fighting new-age medical emergencies that involve the over-consumption of turmeric, fenugreek seeds, aloe vera juice, Vitamin D pills — all driven by unproven social media messages that they boost immunity against Covid-19.

“My colleagues and I are seeing a lot of patients who are self-medicating with so-called immune-boosting agents,” said Dr Cyriac Abby Philips, a specialist in hepatology and liver transplant medicine at the Cochin Gastroenterology Group in Kerala.

“The major factor for this sudden interest among patients is the fear of contracting Covid-19, especially those who are immune-compromised,” Philips said. “The relentless social media posts, promotion by the government on immunity-boosting practices using herbs is leading consumers to adopt such unhealthy practices. In turn, quacks are also cashing in on the opportunity.”

Medical practitioners pointed towards the central government advice of using alternative medicine systems such as homoeopathy and Ayurveda to ward off the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly asked people to follow an advisory issued by the Ministry of Ayush (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homoeopathy), which suggests a range of home remedies to boost immunity, including consumption of turmeric,  honey, ginger and some concoctions.

The central government has also recommended a course of  ‘Arsenicum album 30’ — a homoeopathic medicine.

“While using these products in moderation or recommended quantity may not cause any harm, people have started consuming these products without knowing their proper dosage, way of preparation and consumption and their interaction with their ongoing medications. The trend is dangerous,” said Dr Manoj Goel, director, pulmonology at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.