Does daily vitamin C help coronavirus?

April 9, 2020

Vitamin C is one of the most common supplements available in the market. Experts in this report by Sade Oguntola, review the notion that intake of it can help fight this new COVID-19 virus.

Social distancing, regular handwashing and other personal hygiene are the most effective and proven methods to reduce risk and spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

However, along with general questions on how to stay safe, many are wondering about the role of Vitamin C supplements during this pandemic whether it can help to reduce the risk of being infected with the coronavirus.

There have been many studies evaluating intakes of specific nutrients in relation to other infections. Studies conducted in the USA as well as in multiple low- and middle-income countries such as India, South Africa, and Peru have shown that zinc supplementation are helpful with acute respiratory infections.

It reduces the incidence rate of acute respiratory infections by 35 per cent, shortens the duration of flu-like symptoms by approximately two days, and improves the rate of recovery.

Randomised controlled trials that evaluated the effectiveness of vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) among soldiers, young boys, and older people in the USA, the Soviet Union, the UK, and Japan also showed it significantly reduced the incidence of respiratory tract infections.

The effectiveness of vitamin C given as drips has also been studied among hospitalised patients in the USA, Egypt, and Iran, admitted for a wide variety of conditions including severe sepsis, postoperative complications, burns and cardiac conditions.

Vitamin C was shown to reduce the duration of stay in the intensive care unit and need for mechanical ventilation among these patients. It reduces the length of hospital stay and symptoms in elderly patients with pneumonia as well as the severity and duration of the common cold.

Currently, at least two trials are underway specifically investigating the use of vitamin C —among other drugs—to alleviate symptoms and treat severe COVID-19, one in New York and one in China where COVID-19 originated.

But the results of a study at Wuhan University – where 140 patients are being given big amounts of the drips of vitamin C to establish if it could improve outcomes – will not be completed until September.

In an article published in the Chinese Journal of Infection Diseases, the Shanghai Medical Association endorsed the use of high dose vitamin C as a treatment for hospitalised people with COVID-19 after it found that a high dose vitamin C given in drip form may improve lung function in hospitalised people with COVID-19.

Is there a proof that vitamin C will help treat or prevent COVID-19?  Vitamin C has been known as one of the most potent immune system boosters in the world, but can it really help fight this new COVID-19 virus?

The use of vitamin C in addition to other drugs in the treatment of coronavirus has attracted lots of controversy since the use of vitamin C to treat severe COVID-19, one in New York and one in China, has been published.

Professor Olufemi Adewole, a pulmonologist at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Complex, Ile-Ife, Osun state, said no evidence suggests that vitamin C supplements as an immune booster can help prevent COVID-19.

He added, “the virus is something that is fairly novel, nobody seem to have known much about it for now. Just as people with low immunity had contracted the coronavirus, likewise other people with high immunity had.”

According to him, without a large scale trial that is characterised in terms of individual’s immune response, it might be difficult to conclude that because high doses of vitamin C boost body immunity, it is protective against coronavirus.

Professor Adewole declared: “We really have to be careful of what we prescribe so as not to cause more death or untoward complications. What we know for now that helps more with the virus is some degree of rest, good diet, exercises and hydration and then if you have any pain or fever that can be reduced.

“We will not want to advocate some of these things that we ordinarily used for other viral infections because we are not too sure, data are conflicting.”

Professor Etete Peters, a former President, Nigerian Thoracic Society (NTS) at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, questioned the possibility of vitamin C preventing people from coming down with COVID-19.

He stated that although Vitamin C supplement can help with boosting body immunity, yet this might not be able to prevent or help much with the extent of inflammation that goes on in COVID-19.

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“COVID-19 can result into pneumonia, affecting all the lungs and is not limited to the respiratory tract,” he added.

Professor Peters said although vitamin C is useful in individauls with allergic reactions, recurrent flu or rhinitis, being an antioxidant, it might only increase the recovery rate in people that come down with COVID-19.

Professor Fatai Fehintola, head, Department of Clinical Pharmacology, University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan, stated that there is always a goal in every therapeutc endeavour and this could be to achieve a cure, give some comfort, reduce the chances of complications developing or reduce the period of illness.

Professor Fehintola stated that although COVID-19 may look like any other corona infection such as influenza, there is nothing that can act as a prophylaxis for this novel disease.

He said there is some anedotal information about the treatment of COVID-19 because of the despiration in trying to get something done but “for anybody to say I know its treatment for sure, such a person must substanciate it. But there is no scientific basis to prove it yet.”

Although individuals can take Vitamin C because it is part of the nutrient that the body needs for its functionlity, Professor Fehintola said having the impression that taking Vitamin C to boost immunity will prevent COVID-19 is wrong.

He declared: “It is just like when you have very good nutritional status, certain infections will not even come near you and you will not succumb to certain things in the environment. But certainly Vitamin C is not a cure or a prophylaxis for COVID-19.”

However, Professor Fehintola said what is certain is that people who are old or with weak immune system due to debilitating illnesses such as cancer, kidney or chest conditions, are more predisposed to COVID-19.

Fruits and vegetables provide the best source of vitamin C.  But supplementation should be considered if vitamin C requirements are not being met through a person’s diet.

However, some experts argue that advising people to take such high doses of vitamins and supplements can be harmful, as even essential nutrients like vitamin C can produce side effects if ingested in extremely high doses.

Taking more than 2000mg of vitamin C a day may cause stomach upsets, including abdominal pain, diarrhoea or nausea. Because vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, excessive vitamin C is excreted in the urine. Rarely, over-supplementation with vitamin C causes kidney stones.


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