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anses

French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

ANSES warns against taking food supplements that could lower the body’s immune response

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News of 17/04/2020

Some of the plants found in food supplements can weaken the body’s natural defences, primarily by interfering with the inflammatory defence mechanisms used to fight infection and, in particular, COVID-19. The plants concerned by the ANSES opinion include willow, meadowsweet, harpagophytum, turmeric, echinacea, birch, poplar and liquorice.

Food supplements containing plants with anti-inflammatory properties

Some food supplements contain plants with anti-inflammatory properties that could act as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These plants could interfere with the body’s natural defences, lowering its ability to fight infection and, in particular, COVID-19. Therefore, in the light of the COVID-19 epidemic, ANSES issued an internal request regarding the risks associated with taking food supplements containing plants that could interfere with the body’s immune and inflammatory response in fighting infection by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

An Emergency Collective Expert Appraisal Group was set up to review the latest scientific data on the immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory mechanisms of plants and their capacity to interfere with the immune response in the event of infection. At the same time, the French Health Products Safety Agency (ANSM) has taken measures to ensure the safe use of drugs containing paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, primarily by removing them from the self-service shelves in pharmacies.

Plants interfering with the immune response 

A number of plants have been identified as having a counter-productive effect on the body’s natural defences against the coronavirus. These include plants containing salicylic acid derivatives, similar to aspirin, such as willow, meadowsweet, birch, poplar, goldenrod and polygala, as well as plants containing other herbal anti-inflammatories, such as harpagophytum, echinacea, turmeric and cat’s claw (also referred to as the healing vine of Peru), and plants of the genera Boswellia and Commiphora (known for their gum-oleoresin, and referred to respectively as frankincense and myrrh).

Although the level of knowledge available is not the same for all these plants, the experts at ANSES believe that they are all likely to interfere with the body’s immune response and inflammatory reaction when infection occurs. The experts point out that inflammation should be prevented only when it becomes excessive. 

In view of these expert studies, ANSES recommends that:

  • le using food supplements for preventive purposes should immediately stop taking any supplements containing these plants as soon as the first symptoms of COVID-19 appear;
  • people taking these food supplements for chronic inflammatory diseases must ask their doctor for advice on whether to continue or stop taking them.