Vitamin supplements have seen considerable growth in sales throughout the first half of 2020, especially early in the pandemic.
According to Nielsen, vitamin and mineral supplement sales were up 51.2 percent in March and 16.7 percent from mid-June to mid-July in the U.S. compared to last year.
In the week ending March 15, Vitamin D sales were up 82.2 percent, Zinc 437 percent, and Elderberry up 788.4 percent from the previous week.
Vitamin C supplement sales reached $209 million in the first half of 2020, which corresponds to a 76 percent increase from 2019.
Supplement use had reached an all-time high in 2019, with 77 percent of Americans reporting they used dietary supplements in a CRN consumer survey.
According to Kantar, the U.K. has seen similar growth in the industry, hitting record sales this year and more than half of the population buying some supplement.
According to analysts at Barclays, the trends were driven by a more proactive approach to health and wellness from the youngest generations. Coronavirus has accelerated that preference and forced some to self-medicate with supplements as the overtaxed health system cannot cope with every minor illness.
A pharmacist at The Williamsburg Drug Company said, “People are looking for what can they do because there are no vaccines, there’s no prescription medication, what else can they do besides sit in their house?”
Even during recessions without a major health scare, dietary supplements sell reasonably well since they can be seen as a more affordable way to be healthy.
However, experts caution reading too much into this data. Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health, said in some studies the correlation disappears if researchers adjust for other COVID-19 risk factors.
He said, “It remains to be investigated properly, through randomized controlled trials, whether vitamin D can actually help prevent COVID-19 infection, or prevent severe illness.”
The CDC website says, “dietary supplements aren’t meant to treat or prevent Covid-19” and “the best way to obtain these nutrients is through foods.”
On the other hand, England’s National Health Service (NHS) has expanded recommendations for 10 microgram vitamin D supplements per day to encompass the entire population rather than just high-risk individuals.
They stress this recommendation is because of the reduced amount of sunlight people can get during quarantine, leading to weakened bones and muscles, rather than a response to the correlational research on COVID-19.
“There have been some news reports about vitamin D reducing the risk of coronavirus. However, there is currently not enough evidence to support this. Do not buy more vitamin D than you need.”
That hasn’t stopped some rogue doctors and health clinics from claiming it’s a cure-all, offering high dose intravenous injections to patients and billing insurers for the treatment.
The FTC has sent at least 37 warning letters to clinics and wellness centers that have been marketing vitamin C injections. At least one doctor, Dr. Charles Mok, had his business raided by the FBI and was charged with health care fraud.