Beware covinfluencers trying to sell you supplements to prevent coronavirus
If you’re on a family WhatsApp group, you’ll already know that fake news around coronavirus is rife.
Whether it’s an aunt sharing messages from a ‘friend’s sister who works in a hospital’ or your dad sending you scaremongering videos from people allegedly in the army or police, it’s hard to know what to believe.
But what about when this incorrect messaging is coming not from a tech-unsavvy quinquagenarian, but an influencer with tens of or hundreds of thousands of followers?
Although flat tummy teas and hair growth gummies (usual influencer fodder) aren’t without their dangers or drawbacks, a number of social media stars are moving into dangerous territory by selling supplements and treatments purporting that they can prevent, cure, or treat coronavirus.
The selling of supplements is not illegal, but the Advertising Standards Authority say they are currently investigating a number of advertisements for products where there is a claim regarding COVID-19.
Matt Wilson, the Media and Public Affairs Manager of the ASA told Metro.co.uk: ‘We’re currently investigating an influencer (and company) promoting a face spray that claims to kill viruses.
‘And we’re currently assessing the promotion by various influencers of an ‘antibacterial snood’ to establish if there are grounds for further action.’
This Instagram post was published before a national emergency was declared in many countries, including in Ingrid’s country of residence Monaco.
When Metro.co.uk reached out to Ingrid for comment the post was changed and she highlighted that she does not call herself an influencer, but a licensed health professional (although declined to comment on the specific qualification she holds and declined to allow us to publish her response about the post featuring Simply Inulin and coronavirus).
We are all navigating new and changing research and influencers – whether self-defined or otherwise – cannot be held solely responsible for the overload of information on what works and what doesn’t.
It’s also not necessarily the case that those with large followings are recommending products in bad faith. However, there are still potential consequences for those who promote products alluding to their health benefits in relation to coronavirus, regardless of intent.
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This is probably one of the most powerful things you can get during these times, and an amazing health tool for you and your family going forward. I’ve been reading the book “The Ozone Miracle” by Dr. Frank Shallenberger @ozonetherapyinc and have been blown away by the anti-microbial and oxygen-enhancing properties of ozone. Particularly relevant to our current pandemic, ozone gas has been proven to kill the SARS coronavirus. The structure of the new 2019-nCoV coronavirus is similar to the SARS coronavirus, it is possible that it could also work on the new virus (viruses have little to no protection against the oxidative stress induced by ozone). Ozone therapy is used to disinfect and treat diseases by limiting the effects of bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeast, and protozoa. Frank’s book also gets into the effects of ozone for: -improving circulation by cleaning arteries and veins -purifying blood and the lymph -normalizing hormone and enzyme production -reducing pain -reducing the risk of complications from diabetes -improving brain function and memory So based on all this, and the advice of Dr. Matt Cook, who uses ozone extensively in his functional medicine practice @bioresetmedical, I decided to research and purchase an at-home ozone generator for myself and my family. There is only one company that sells reliable generators and peripherals in North America and it's Longevity Resources @longevityresourcesinc (code is BEN100 for $100 discount), recommended by Dr. Matt Cook. I bought their Quantum 5 Ozone Generator, and have been doing daily rectal ozone insufflation for myself and my family with it. It is their newest, most popular, and most advanced ozone generator in the world. Located in Canada, you can reach them at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/ozone or call toll free 1-877-543-3398 within Canada and USA or 001-250-654-0092 internationally. These are disappearing as people find out about how potent they are for viruses and for strengthening the immune system so I had to get this post out quickly. They will likely be sold out by the end of this week. Anyone else using ozone therapy these days or have questions about use?
A post shared by Ben Greenfield Fitness (@bengreenfieldfitness) on
‘Using #coronavirus is highly likely to be problematic in relation to the promotion of any health-related product that could be understood as helping to prevent or treat the disease,’ said Matt.
‘More broadly, in response to the COVID-19 crisis we have prioritised our work to tackle companies or individuals seeking to use advertising to exploit the circumstances for their own gain, for example, ads that exploit people’s health-related anxieties.
‘As part of that, we’ve set-up a ‘report not complain’ function that helps consumers flag up concerns quickly so that we can take effective action against problematic coronavirus ads.’
While those selling products on Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook might not actively say ‘this can cure coronavirus’, often the links to prevention or defence are somewhat more tenuous.
For example, Angelo Grinceri, a Functional Wellness Consultant with 27,500 followers on Instagram, has a link to an Amazon list on his bio that features various supplements. Above the link it states: ‘Get all of your Coronavirus Defense needs right here.’
Angelo told Metro.co.uk: ‘I believe there are certain protective measures that can be used to avoid and/or fight off covid19.
‘1. Avoiding: using protective wear and disinfecting your phone and incoming packages.
2. Fight off COVID-19 with your natural immune system. Your immune system is designed to attack virus’ and the healthier your gut and cells are the more efficiently your body will defend.’
Angelo makes between 1% and 2% of the sales that come from his Amazon link through affiliates.
It appears to be common sense that a boosted immune system would be better at fighting viruses, which is what we’ve seen when it comes to colds and flu.
But given how serious COVID-19 has proven to be, and how those who are not immunocompromised have lost their lives, could linking coronavirus in this way prove false hope for followers who feel they are safe due to taking these supplements?
Regarding the immune system and coronavirus, the current guidance from the NHS is that those with a weakened immune system ‘as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy’ are considered at-risk.
The NHS also states that there is little benefit to most vitamin supplements for most people (and that some can be harmful in high doses), backed by research from various studies on their efficacy.
Angelo and Ingrid are far from the only ones making loose connections between a boosted immune system and protection against COVID-19.
Spanish bodybuilder and supplement company owner Sergi Constance (4.4 million followers) claims that his brand’s new Immune Complex tablets are ‘known for their immunological-stimulating properties and their ability to protect you against viral infections.’
Speaker, author, and supplement company owner Ben Greenfield (251,000 followers) promoted Ozone generators – which are used to pump O3 gas into the rectum – on his feed, with a personal link and discount code (which can imply he makes a cut of the purchases made).
The post said: ‘This is probably one of the most powerful things you can get during these times, and an amazing health tool for you and your family going forward… Ozone gas has been proven to kill the SARS coronavirus. The structure of the new 2019-nCoV coronavirus is similar to the SARS coronavirus, it is possible that it could also work on the new virus.’
The FDA in the US state: ‘Ozone is a toxic gas with no known useful medical application in specific, adjunctive, or preventive therapy.’
They also claim that it can cause irritation to the lungs, which may result in pulmonary oedema.
Both Sergi and Ben have been contacted for comment but have not replied at the time of writing.
Instagram has stepped in to remove posts that make false claims about prevention or curing of coronavirus, in line with WHO guidelines.
They claim: ‘We’ve also banned ads and commerce listings that imply a product guarantees a cure or prevents people from contracting COVID-19.’
On Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, the hashtag coronavirus will show an educational message connecting them to resources from the World Health Organisation and local health ministries.
The problem here is that the claims made in these posts are veiled enough to imply you can ‘defend’ against the virus or ‘fight’ it more effectively, without actively mentioning a cure or full prevention.
The ASA has been quick to act against those who have sold products in a similar manner.
Matt says: ‘We’ve already taken against ads for face mask and we’re currently fast-tracking investigations into IV drip clinics that claim to protect consumers from COVID-19.’
In an article for Al-Jazeera, Dr Sara Kayat, who works as a GP for the NHS, says: ‘No amount of kale or flaxseed will stop you from catching this contagious and serious viral infection. Hand washing, social distancing and self-isolation remain the only current ways we have to actively prevent it…
‘Furthermore, the immune system is not designed to be “boosted”, and if it were able to work in overdrive it could actually result in us becoming more unwell by damaging our healthy cells and tissue as well, which is what can happen in “autoimmune” conditions.’
If these ‘covinfluencers’ wish to sell their products for general health or wellbeing, it’s unclear why they feel the need to do so with mention of a global pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of people.
Not only could it land them in hot water with regulators, it could harm the people they wish to help.
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