Update (5/26/20): In its June 1 issue, the National Enquirer issued a correction regarding its false reporting about Armitage. The publication wrote: “In the March 23 issue, we mistakenly attributed a comment to Dr. Keith Armitage suggesting that elderberry was a viable treatment for COVID-19. Dr. Armitage did not make that suggestion.”
Update (3/20/20): A spokesperson for the National Enquirer told Media Matters that “a correction clarifying that there was an error in what was attributed to Dr. Armitage will appear in a future issue in the next couple of weeks.”
The National Enquirer released a reprehensible edition claiming that “top doctors have told The National ENQUIRER” that the coronavirus “can be stopped in its tracks with natural cures found right in your kitchen or at your local pharmacy!” But one of the doctors the tabloid referenced told Media Matters that the Enquirer never actually talked to him and called on the publication to retract its claim because it attributed something to him that he “would never say.”
Supermarkets across the country have been carrying the March 23 edition of the Enquirer, which features the lie that “coronavirus cures” have finally been “found” and that there are “miracle pill and kitchen treatments that work!”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “there is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.” The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states: “There is no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent or cure the illness caused by this virus. In fact, some of them may not be safe to consume.”
The Enquirer article claimed that “top doctors have told The National ENQUIRER that the deadly plague can be stopped in its tracks with natural cures found right in your kitchen or at your local pharmacy!” and later referenced University Hospitals’ Dr. Keith Armitage. The Enquirer claimed that “researchers also believe elderberry syrup or tea is effective in battling the deadly virus because it’s known for fending off flu-like symptoms and boosting the immune system, according to Keith Armitage, medical director for the UH Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine and Global Health in Cleveland, Ohio.”
But Armitage told Media Matters that he “never spoke to the Enquirer,” that the publication’s description of his medical opinion is “not accurate at all,” and that he “would never say” what they attributed to him. He added: “If people eat a healthy diet, exercise, get enough sleep and don’t smoke- they may in general have a better immune system; but how this impacts their susceptibility and clinical course for a specific virus is not known.”
He also said that the publication should retract its false description of his medical opinion.
It’s not immediately clear where the Enquirer found its purported information. Armitage did talk to cleveland.com about elderberry and the coronavirus for a March 2 article, but he did not endorse it as a treatment. To the contrary, he said that “it’s definitely not an alternative to the flu shot.”
As the spread of novel coronavirus to the U.S. becomes ‘inevitable’ and patient cases begin to climb, those worried about the illness are doing everything they can to prepare. So can elderberry help fight off COVID-19?
We don’t really know. There’s still not enough significant data, even after centuries of use, to show that elderberry syrup fights flu symptoms or boosts the immune system at all, said Dr. Keith Armitage, medical director for the UH Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine and Global Health.
If sipping on elderberry tea or a dose of syrup makes you feel better, there’s no reason to not take it, Armitage said, but acknowledge the plant’s limits.
“It’s definitely not an alternative to the flu shot,” he said.
Earlier this week, New York Times reporter Charlie Savage flagged the Enquirer cover on Twitter, writing: “Shame on @Safeway for continuing to profit from selling misinformation." Media Matters previously contacted Albertsons (Safeway’s parent company), Hy-Vee, Kroger, Target, and Wal-Mart to ask why they are carrying the Enquirer’s false “coronavirus cures” edition but have yet to receive a response.