Calgary clinic 'leveraging fear' with claim supplement helps prevent COVID-19, health expert says

A naturopathic clinic in Calgary claims to have developed a supplement to help prevent ant treat COVID-19, a claim an Alberta medical expert calls "infuriating."

Best prevention for the novel coronavirus is washing your hands

Tim Caulfield looks off camera as he is interviewed. He's sitting in front of shelves lined with books.
University of Alberta professor Timothy Caulfield said it's infuriating to watch the spread of misinformation around a public health issue like coronavirus. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Read the latest on this story: Clinic apologizes for claiming its supplement could prevent or treat COVID-19


A Calgary naturopathic clinic's claim that it has developed a supplement to help prevent and treat COVID-19 is "infuriating" to an expert in debunking health claims.

Calgary Integrative Medicine claims it will have a new supplement available to help with the outbreak next week.

"Boost your immune system! We have formulated a supplement to help prevent, and hopefully help treat the virus," the email, which was sent to patients on Friday, reads. "Little is known about the treatment of this virus, but there are various agents showing promising results."

CBC News contacted the clinic, but has yet to receive a response.

Four cases of COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus, were found in Alberta this week. Three cases are presumptive and one has been confirmed.

As the outbreak spreads so does misinformation, said Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta.

"It's infuriating. They are leveraging the fear and confusion around coronavirus to sell a product that almost certainly does not work," Caulfield said. "There's no evidence that supplements help in this context at all, and when they are making a claim like that … I think it's really problematic. And I hope regulators take a look at it."

No known treatments

Caulfield said evidence is still being accumulated about the coronavirus and there are no known treatments so far.

"Much of what's offered in most naturopathic clinics — and this is something we've actually studied systematically — has very little evidence to support it," he said. "This is part of a larger pattern, but when it's being in the context of a serious public health issue like coronavirus, it's particularly problematic."

Caulfield has made a career of debunking pseudoscience and unproven health advice.

He recently wrote an article for Health News Review explaining how the evidence around supplements is "mixed" at best, and said there's no solid proof that supplements can boost the immune system. 

The College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta, which self-regulates the profession, states that naturopaths must advertise in a way that is factual, verifiable, and does not deceive or promote a demand for an unnecessary service.

CBC News has reached out to the organization to ask if this newsletter complies with its regulations.

Caulfield said it's vital to listen to trusted public health agencies and follow proven prevention advice, like washing your hands and staying home if you're sick.

"I get it. There's so much misinformation out there and there's also real information that's emerging so it's no surprise that people are confused. Listen to those trusted voices that are aggregating information, the World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of Canada."


What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Be aware of evolving travel advisories to different regions.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.