Supplements
(Getty)
  • Some families are spending thousands of rands a month on supplements to protect them against Covid-19.
  • Vitamin C and zinc are popular, as is Vitamin D.
  • But vitamins are not recommended in mild cases of Covid-19, and official guidance in South Africa is against using zinc.
  • Here's what we found from a survey of readers.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

South Africans are spending significant amounts of money, from their own pockets, on Covid-19 supplements that are not recommended, a Business Insider South Africa survey has found.

In December we reported that medical aids that had been covering the cost of some vitamins and minerals for Covid-19 patients were changing their rules, as evidence continues to mount against the efficacy of supplements.

See also | Rules are changing, and your medical aid likely won't pay for vitamins if you get Covid-19 

We asked our readers whether they had taken any of the popular Covid-19 supplements, and how much they had paid. We heard from 230 respondents, among which 219 told us they had taken some form of vitamin or mineral supplement for Covid-19.

Here's what they told us.

Many doctors prescribed supplements – but most people bought their own

The National Institute For Communicable Diseases does not recommend vitamin or mineral supplements for managing mild Covid-19, and since September, the national department of health specifically does not recommend giving zinc to Covid-19 patients.

As a result of growing evidence against supplements, medical aids have been dropping what coverage they previously had for vitamins and minerals given to Covid-19 patients.

Doctors continue to prescribe supplements, our survey showed – but they are not the main reason people take them. Of our respondents, 31% said they had been given a prescription for supplements, but 64% said they had bought their supplements over the counter.

Most people didn't check if their medical aid would pay for their vitamins

We asked people who paid for their Covid-19 supplements. A full third said they had not bothered to check if their medical aid would pay for those, or didn't know if it had been covered. 

24% of respondents told us their medical aid had paid up, though for 17% of the total, the costs had come from a medical savings account, which can be used for any day-to-day expenses.

10% of our respondents were not insured.

South Africans spent a lot of money on supplements

Among those who took vitamins and minerals for Covid-19, one said they had spent R50, and another said they had spent R100. Everyone else paid more money – in some cases a lot more.

The typical spend was between R200 and R500, but one family told us they had been spending R1,000 per month on supplements since the start of lockdown – and another family reported spending R2,500 a month.

Some experts have advised that health authorities should actively campaign against the use of supplements for Covid-19, because there is little to no proof that they work, while they soak up money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Very few people knew that supplements are not recommended

We asked our respondents whether they knew that vitamin and mineral supplements were not recommended for use in cases of mild Covid-19 in South Africa. 

87% told us they had not been aware of that.

Vitamin C is a popular supplement, with zinc close behind

Vitamin C, long popular for colds and flu, was the top-used supplement, with 90% of our respondents reporting taking it. Zinc was not far behind, at 84% of respondents.

But there was little uniformity in the combinations people took, even those with prescriptions. The globally-popular cocktail of Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and zinc featured among just over 40% of people. 10% skipped the Vitamin D, taking only zinc and Vitamin C. Just under 4% skipped the Vitamin C, taking only Vitamin D and zinc. 

Few took much beyond those three supplements, with only a scattering of reports of plant flavonol Quercetin, some Vitamin B, and selenium among our respondents.

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