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Can vitamin C help in the fight against Covid-19?

Health experts have started exploring the use of high-dose vitamin C in Covid-19

Updated

By DR. KAYCEE REYES 

When down with a cold, we’re often advised to load up on fruits and juices, and to increase our daily dose of vitamins, particularly vitamin C. There’s a good reason for this, too: vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid or ascorbate, is known for doing wonders for the immune system, helping improve the body’s resistance to infections and illnesses, among many other benefits. 

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In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, though, there’s been much debate on whether or not vitamin C is effective in fighting the virus or in increasing our immunity against it. While multiple studies have revealed that ascorbic acid supplements do little in warding off the common cold in most people, other studies have shown that vitamin C, taken at a daily dose of at least 200 milligrams, can shorten the duration of colds, reducing it by up to eight percent in adults and 14 percent in children.

The question now is this: Is this effect significant enough to help us fight against—and overcome—the dreaded COVID-19? And should we all start chugging down our vitamin pills in a bid to stay healthy? 

The deal about vitamin C

A water-soluble vitamin that is naturally found in food, mostly in fruits and vegetables, vitamin C is a vital nutrient required by the body to aid in many body functions, such as the growth and repair of body tissues, formation of collagen, absorption of iron, wound healing, and the development of the immune system.

In the 1970s, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Linus Pauling went as far as touting it as a “super nutrient” that can fight the common cold, a claim that ultimately became the root of the widespread notion that vitamin C is the ultimate weapon against the illness. But while the regular intake of the vitamin has been found to alleviate symptoms to some extent, there’s been little evidence to back up his claim. 

The reason? “Most vitamin C research has used inadequate, low doses,” says Andrew Saul Ph.D., author of the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service and board member of the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. He goes on to explain that low doses do not get clinical results.

Moreover, the method of administration significantly affects the results: Obviously, vitamin C taken through the vein (intravenously) is better absorbed by the body than through pills, with the former delivering 100 percent of the vitamin straight to the bloodstream. 

High-dose vitamin C as a treatment therapy

Considering these facts, scientists and doctors have started turning to the use of high-dose vitamin C therapy as a way to manage the infection caused by COVID-19. It’s not exactly a novel idea: The idea of using large doses of vitamin C in the treatment of illnesses, including viral diseases, has been around since the 1950s. In 1948, American physician Dr. Frederick Klenner published his first paper on this and began his work with mega doses of vitamin C both orally and intravenously, showing excellent response in patients, including those with polio.

Based on Dr. Klenner’s studies, high-dose vitamin C—in amounts of five to 150 grams given intravenously, with dosages depending on the patient’s condition—works as a “flash oxidizer” or neutralizer of toxins. Once ascorbic enters the cells infected by viruses, it “proceeds to take up the protein coats being manufactured by the virus’ nucleic acid, thus preventing the assembly of new virus units,” he wrote. In short, if a virus has invaded a cell, the vitamin C contributes to its breakdown.

Today, many doctors are adapting a similar approach, with health experts in Shanghai, China leading the pack. In early March, the Shanghai government announced its official recommendation to treat COVID-19 with high amounts of intravenous vitamin C, with doses varying depending on the severity of the illness—from 50 to 200 mg per kilogram body weight per day, to as much as 200 mg/kg/day.

Prior to the breakout, Dr. Enqian Mao, chief of the emergency medicine department at Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai, has already been using high-dose IVC (or intravenous vitamin C) for 10 years, treating patients with acute pancreatitis, sepsis, and other conditions. When the cases of COVID-19 started to rise, he and other experts thought of using the same therapy in treating moderate to severe cases of the virus. And so far, the results have been encouraging.

After treating 50 cases with moderate to severe COVID-19 infection with high-dose IVC (around 10,000 mg to 20,000 mg a day for seven to 10 days), all patients improved and there were no fatalities. Moreover, compared to the average 30-day hospital stay of all COVID-19 patients, those who received IVC had hospital stays that were around three to five days shorter. Even better: There were no side effects reported from any of the cases treated. It should be noted, however, that high-dose IVC may be harmful for patients with kidney disorders.

Doctors and researchers at the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated, have also launched a clinical trial to test whether ultra high doses of vitamin C, delivered intravenously, could treat the viral infection in COVID-19 patients. There are no official results available yet.

Here in the Philippines, meanwhile, there are no official directives yet on the use of IVC in the management of COVID-19, although it won’t be surprising if it’s already one of the therapies being used by our medical experts.

Helpful, but not a cure

While there is growing evidence in support of the use of vitamin C in the fight against viruses, it’s also important to note that vitamin C is not a dramatic cure for COVID-19 or any condition, for that matter, and neither will taking large amounts of supplements make you magically immune to illness.

That said, you may still continue to take your vitamin C supplements or even get IVC treatments at trusted medical institutions, but you should not forget the primary precautionary measures recommended by the World Health Organization during these difficult time—that is, to wash your hands often with soap and water, maintain social distancing, avoid touching your eyes and mouth, and to practice respiratory hygiene. 

Furthermore, let us not underestimate the natural benefits of a healthy balanced diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise

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