Vegan Life | Health

Could Olive Leaf Extract Effectively Treat COVID-19? My experience using natural medicine for the new coronavirus

August 20, 2020

Disclaimer: This is only my experience, and nothing in this article is meant to be a substitute for medical advice. I have a bachelor's degree in microbiology, but I am NOT a doctor. Only use these methods if your doctor recommends doing so. If your condition worsens, seek medical treatment.

In mid-March 2020, I contracted COVID-19 through my work as an essential worker. At that time, social distancing wasn't a thing, and there was a mask shortage. Olive leaf extract helped me keep my symptoms under control and recover more quickly.

The topic of natural medicine is one that I'm hesitant to write or talk about with the general public, because of how it may be perceived. For some people, discussing natural medicine is seen as equally irresponsible as a politician suggesting that people inject bleach or suggesting random unproven drugs as a treatment. (Please don't do either of those things. They are both harmful.) As if to prove my point, YouTube removed the video that I had posted about my experience from their platform.

Youtube video thumbnail with "removed" across it
YouTube removed my video from the platform for an unspecified policy violation.

But my hesitancy to put myself in the line of fire on the internet is met with the realization that people are dying who potentially don't have to die. Olive leaf extract is safer than most pharmaceutical drugs, and in my limited experience, it actually worked. If sharing my experience can save one life, it's absolutely worth facing some criticism.

To be clear, this is only my experience, and it is not definitive proof of anything. For that, we need clinical trials. But we most likely won't get clinical trials for this, because there's no profit motive for a company to research a natural substance that they can't patent.

Right now, Western medicine doesn't have much to offer. Remdesivir has had some positive results, but it's not a cure. Doctors have been finding that ventilators may not be as useful as they once thought, or at least not when used as they were originally using them. And some vaccines have had positive initial results, but we're still a long way away from getting them to market. If I had to go through it all again, I'd absolutely use olive leaf extract as my first line of defense (again), rather than waiting until my condition is so bad that I have to depend on Western medicine.

"Natural medicine doesn't actually work"

Many people think that natural medicine is a thing of the past... something that we used when humans didn't know what we were actually doing, before we understood science. And now that we have science, we should just discard all the old, useless ways of doing things.

It's true that in the past, "doctors" did a lot of things that were more harmful than helpful. Bloodletting is one example. And lots of traditional home remedies actually don't work, or we have more effective medicines now. That doesn't mean that every natural medicine is ineffective or less effective than Western medicine, however.

But many of our Western medicines originated with plants. Aspirin, for example, is a chemical modification of salicylic acid, which is a compound that is found in the inner bark of willow trees. Western medicine still uses salicylic acid in its natural form for skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis.

Willow tree and a castle
People used to chew on the inner bark of the willow tree for pain relief. The willow tree contains salicylic acid, which scientists used to develop aspirin.

Science doesn't know everything yet. We are still learning how many things work. And just because science hasn't figured out how to explain something, doesn't mean it's not happening. One hundred years ago, humans had made a lot of scientific advancements. But if you showed them a smartphone, they'd probably think you're into some type of black magic. But just because they wouldn't be able to explain how a smartphone works, doesn't make the technology behind it any less real.

Another reason that people typically believe that natural medicine doesn't work is that there's not enough research to prove that it works. To be scientifically accepted, medicines need to undergo multiple stages of clinical trials, and those trials need to be replicated by different researchers. All of this costs a lot of money to do. Private corporations will happily invest that money if they can patent the drug and have a monopoly on it for the next ten years.

But for a natural medicine that no one can patent and anyone can sell, private corporations have no incentive to do that research. That leaves most natural medicines perpetually in the "unproven" category, no matter how promising they might be. But the fact that the research hasn't been done doesn't have any bearing on whether a natural medicine is actually effective. So how can we know whether a natural medicine is effective? We can consult a naturopathic doctor. We can learn from others' results. And we can try (safe) things for ourselves.

Because of the lack of research, it's important that we don't ever expect a natural medicine to work for us. In other words, we shouldn't neglect our health, or make decisions based on the expectation that a natural medicine will work. Especially if life is at risk. Using natural medicine should not be a substitute for seeing a doctor. When making decisions for your health, always base your decisions on the assumption that an unproven medicine won't work. In other words, if you have an immediate need for medical care, get that care.

Is it safe?

When we're dealing with anything unproven, the most important question is, is it safe? The problem with injecting bleach or taking hydroxychloroquine is not that it's unproven; the problem is that it's unsafe and unproven. If you're going to accept serious side effects, you should want to know that it's also going to produce positive results for you as well.

I don't know that anything can ever be considered 100% safe. Everyone's body is different. Some people have severe allergic reactions to peanuts. That's why it's important to consult with your doctor about anything you might take and monitor how your body responds.

However, olive leaf extract has a long history of use among humans. Some people experience stomach irritation or headaches. (It's been suggested that these are "detox" symptoms, I can't speak to the validity of that idea.) It might have interactions with other medications. However, studies have shown that most people have no side effects with olive leaf extract.

The active compound in olive leaf extract is oleuropein. This compound is also found in olives and olive oil, which are consumed in high amounts in Mediterranean diets. If you're eating olives or olive oil, you're already consuming some amount of this compound through your regular diet.

Olive oil and olives
Both olives and olive oil contain oleuropein, the active compound in olive leaf extract.

If you are interested in potentially using olive leaf extract as a treatment for COVID-19, this article should be a starting point for your research. Olive leaf extract is seemingly safe, but you should still check with your doctor. Especially if you are pregnant or have another medical condition that might affect how olive leaf affects your body.

The theory behind using olive leaf extract for coronavirus treatment

I have some experience using olive leaf extract for colds and flu. Through that experience, I've learned how it works. I've learned what it can and can't do. And I applied that experience to my treatment regimen for COVID-19.

My goal was to use olive leaf extract in a preventative way: to prevent the virus from replicating and damaging my body in the process. Meanwhile, I gave my body time to create antibodies to eliminate the virus on its own.

The idea is to prevent the symptoms (and damage) from becoming worse. I would only use olive leaf extract with mild symptoms. It's important to speak with a doctor so that you know when you need to seek medical treatment. If you reach that point of worsening symptoms, get the medical care you need.

Olive leaf extract can't repair damage that's already been done to your lungs. It can only prevent new damage. So if you've progressed to a certain point, the olive leaf may prevent more damage from occurring, but it won't fix the damage you already have. And if there's a certain amount of damage already done, you may need oxygen or another treatment to keep you alive. Don't count on the olive leaf extract to do that at this stage.

How our body responds to viruses

When a virus is introduced into the body, there are two responses your body has at its disposal to attempt to eliminate it. First, your body produces a generalized response. That response will be the same for any virus. During this stage, your body produces interferon, to slow the replication of the virus. Interferon is responsible for symptoms like fever, aches, and fatigue.

Human Interferon
Interferon is your body's first response to a virus. Source: Nevit Dilmen / CC BY-SA (

Your body also has a specific immune response. The generalized response is very quick, but the specific immune response takes about two weeks (this timeframe can vary from person to person). The specific immune response produces antibodies—proteins that are laser-focused on finding and attaching to a specific virus (or another type of foreign invader, like a bacterium). Each virus has unique proteins on its surface, and the antibodies are an exact match to those proteins, like a lock and key. When an antibody finds its matching protein, it sends out an alert to the rest of your immune system so that the attached virus can be destroyed.

How the novel coronavirus attacks our body

We're still learning about this virus, but so far, this is what we believe to be the case: The virus mainly infects the lungs, but it doesn't begin there. It also may not end there. It can cause damage to other organs as well. COVID-19 enters the body by attaching to ACE2 receptors that are present on the mouth, nose, and eyes.

Coronavirus image
Coronaviruses enter human cells by using their spike proteins to attach to ACE2 receptors.

After the virus infects the cells of the lungs, those cells are eventually destroyed. Because so many cells are being killed so quickly, they pile up and create a layer of debris on the inner surface of the lungs. Your lungs have epithelial cells that can pull the oxygen out of the air you're breathing, and transfer that oxygen to your blood. Your blood then distributes that oxygen around your body. But when the lungs have too much debris covering the epithelial cells, the cells can't access the oxygen to transfer it to the blood. If blood oxygen levels drop too low, the organs in the body won't receive enough oxygen. This is what can lead to death.

After reaching this point, receiving oxygen is critical to a patient's survival. If half of the epithelial cells in the lungs are blocked, a patient will only be getting half the normal oxygen with each breath. But by breathing air with a higher oxygen content, a patient can still get the required amount of oxygen, even with only partially functioning lungs. (The air contains about 20% oxygen, but hospitals can administer up to 100% oxygen to a patient).

Because people are generally sick for two weeks or longer with COVID-19, we can hypothesize that the generalized immune response is probably not very effective at eliminating the virus. That means the virus can't be eliminated until the body produces antibodies. The difference between life and death seems to be how much damage is done to the body before the virus can be eliminated.

Using olive leaf extract for COVID-19 treatment

I'll say it one more time to be clear, olive leaf extract has not been studied with COVID-19! This is only my experience. However, it has been studied with viruses such as HIV, RSV, influenza, and common cold viruses. It's generally considered to be a broad antiviral that works in two ways: it stops viruses from attaching to your cells, and it stops viruses from replicating (expanding the infection). It also has been shown to increase the body's natural immune response.

Olive leaf extract cannot kill or eliminate the virus completely; it can only stop or slow its replication. So this is not a cure. It stops the progression of the infection.

When I took olive leaf extract for COVID-19, my goal was just to stop the virus from spreading long enough for my body to produce its own antibodies. As I mentioned before, that's usually around two weeks. My theory was that after that time, my specific immune response would be able to eliminate the virus on its own. By stopping the virus from replicating, I'd be able to prevent the virus from damaging my lungs and organs during the time it took for my body to produce antibodies.

Using war as an analogy, if an army is coming to invade your city and you're not ready, what can you do? You send some soldiers out to hold the invading army off, while you prepare your defenses inside the city. Then, when you're ready, you let the invaders reach your city and you can destroy them immediately. The olive leaf extract is the band of soldiers you send out to hold off the virus.

Olive leaf extract can be purchased in liquid or in capsule (powder) form. The liquid form can be absorbed by the body more easily. However, I've always used powder capsules and have had good results. When you're buying a supplement, look for a higher percentage of oleuropein. I use Swanson super strength 750 mg capsules, which have 20% oleuropein.

Swanson Olive Leaf Extract
Swanson extra strength olive leaf extract

Olive oil also contains some oleuropein, but it gets broken down when the oil is heated. It's also hard to know what percentage of oleuropein you're getting from it. So while you may want to cook with it as well, don't depend on it to get enough oleuropein to treat COVID-19.

Oleuropein is metabolized by your body in three hours. That means the virus can begin replicating again three hours after you take olive leaf extract, unless you take more. So I took one capsule every 2 1/2 to 3 hours. That included waking up in the middle of the night to take it. If you're not high risk, it may be okay to take it less often (although you'll notice that you start to have symptoms again). But for high-risk people, I'd recommend being very careful with the timing, so the virus doesn't have an opportunity to replicate and spread.

I continued with that dosage for about a week and a half. I assumed that I was infected for a few days before I started showing symptoms. So by one and a half weeks, I figured I was probably infected for a long enough time (or close to it) for my body to produce antibodies. You may want to continue with that dosage for a longer time, especially if you're high risk. The amount of time that it takes to produce antibodies is not the same for everyone.

After the initial week and a half, I cut back my dosage to three times a day. Mild symptoms did return, but I recovered completely within a couple of days. You can discuss with your doctor the right dosage for this stage; it should depend on your risk factors. Higher risk individuals should reduce the dosage more gradually.

Is it working?

If you take olive leaf extract as I recommended above, you should have zero symptoms, if it's working. If you start taking it very early on, you may get to zero symptoms that same day. But if you wait until your symptoms have progressed further, it may take a few days to get a complete disappearance of symptoms. However, if your symptoms continue to worsen, the olive leaf is probably not working for you.

Depending on how long you waited to start taking olive leaf extract, you may not see your symptoms completely eliminated. When COVID-19 infects your cells, those cells get damaged. That damage will continue to cause symptoms until your body is able to replace those cells, which can take a lot longer than a few days. But your symptoms should NOT get worse if the olive leaf extract is working.

Get prepared now

If you're reading this and you're not currently infected with COVID-19, don't wait until you're sick. I'd recommend picking up a couple of bottles of olive leaf extract just in case. If you do get sick, that's not the time you'll want to wait for a package to arrive, or to ask someone to go to the vitamin store for you. Even if you never contract the coronavirus (and hopefully you don't), you can always use olive leaf extract in a similar way for the cold or flu.

You may also want to do some research on telemedicine providers. During the current pandemic, many telemedicine apps are providing free virtual doctor's appointments for people with symptoms of COVID-19. You may need a coupon code, or it might just be free when you register, but you should be able to find a few. Most local healthcare systems have their own apps.

The first telemedicine app that I tried had long waits for doctors (15 to 20 patients waiting for each doctor). With waits like that, I never was able to see a doctor, because by the time I made it to the 10th spot in line, the doctor would sign off and I'd have to get in the back of another line. But the second app I tried had plenty of doctors with only 1 or 2 patients in line and I saw someone with less than an hour wait. So keep looking if you see long waits on an app.

If you do contract COVID-19, a pulse oximeter is a great tool to help monitor your health. Essentially, it tells you how much oxygen is in your blood (compared to the maximum that it can carry). When I'm healthy, my oxygen saturation is around 99-100%. If your blood oxygen saturation drops too much, you may need to be hospitalized. Ask your doctor for his or her advice, but generally, anything below 95% might indicate a more severe problem. Pulse oximeters may vary in their accuracy, though, so if you feel like you need medical care you should seek treatment regardless of what your oximeter says. (Some phones have this built-in with the pulsometer, so check your phone before you buy!)

Pulox Pulse Oximeter
A pulse oximeter can tell you if you're getting enough oxygen to your blood and organs.

Before I end this, I just want to give a word of warning: If you take olive leaf extract and have no symptoms, that doesn't mean you're not contagious! Please continue to self-isolate until your doctor tells you it's okay to resume your normal activities.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! And if you found this helpful, please share it to help others!


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Steph Sunshine

Hi! I'm Steph, and I love to explore vegan food, health, and of course, the world. I'm sharing my best vegan recipes, and things I've learned and loved from my travels and health journeys.

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