Vitamin C and COVID-19
by Dr Veerle Van Tricht MD
The role that vitamin C might play in recovery from coronavirus has come to light recently as doctors from the United States and around the world are reportedly prescribing high doses of vitamin C to patients in intensive care.
Doctors in New York have been prescribing critically ill coronavirus patients large doses of vitamin C, and it is also being trialed in hard-hit China where COVID-19 originated. But the results of a study at Wuhan University – where 140 patients are being given big amounts of the antioxidant intravenously to establish if it could improve outcomes – will not be completed until September.
At the moment, there is no evidence that taking vitamin C supplements could prevent or cure the respiratory illness COVID-19.
As COVID-19 is a novel illness, there’s very limited research into the role that vitamin C might play in either prevention or recovery. Understandably, there’s a lot of public interest in potential treatments as the pandemic unfolds for those who become critically unwell with the coronavirus infection.
Let us take a look at the role of vitamin C in immunity, the current evidence for vitamin C supplementation, and whether or not we should be taking vitamin C supplements regularly to prevent infections.
What is vitamin C good for?
Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble vitamin, which means the body can’t store it. If we have too much, our body will get rid of the extra amounts through our urine. Interestingly, most animals have the ability to make vitamin C in their body. However, humans no longer have the necessary enzymes to do this, which scientists believe may be an evolutionary adaption.
Because we can’t store or make vitamin C, we need to be getting it regularly through our diet.
Vitamin C is an important antioxidant, meaning it protects the body from oxidative stress and prevents damage to our cells and other tissues.
It also helps the body to form collagen, which is the main protein in our connective tissue (i.e. our skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones). This means it plays a vital role in wound healing.
Finally, and most relevant due to the current coronavirus pandemic, vitamin C helps to regulate our immune system. This is because our immune cells, such as white blood cells, contain high levels of vitamin C. When we become unwell with an infection, the vitamin C levels within our immune cells become depleted, which can impact how our body responds to these infections.
Will vitamin C prevent a cold?
It has been found that vitamin C supplements may shorten the duration of the common cold and reduce the severity of symptoms, but these benefits were only seen if the supplements were taken before the onset of cold and flu symptoms.
Vitamin C and Covid-19
It’s important to note that coronavirus comes from a different family of viruses to the common cold and flu, so we can’t draw direct comparisons between the studies conducted on vitamin C and the common cold or flu.
There is some research going on to see the effects of extremely high doses of IV vitamin C on coronavirus, however these trials are in the early stages and no conclusions can be drawn.
Dr Andrew Weber, a pulmonologist and critical-care specialist in Long Island, said he had been giving his intensive care coronavirus patients 1,500 milligrams of intravenous vitamin C. Identical amounts of the dosage are then re-administered three or four times a day, he told the New York Post. “The patients who received vitamin C did significantly better than those who did not get vitamin C,” he said.
Where can I get vitamin C from?
The best sources of vitamin C are fresh fruits and vegetables, in particular:
Vitamin C is easily damaged compared to other vitamins because it’s very sensitive to light, heat, and oxygen. As a result, it can be destroyed through cooking, drying, or storage of foods.
To prevent vitamin C damage in foods:
Store fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C whole and uncut in the refrigerator until you need them
Only prepare these foods right before serving and cut them into larger pieces to lower their contact with the air or exposure to light
Vitamin C dissolves in cooking water, so try cooking vitamin C rich vegetables in as little water as possible, or steam/stir fry the vegetables instead. Alternatively, you can preserve the cooking water to use in soups, stocks, or gravy.
Freezing foods for longer than two months can destroy vitamin C, so try to eat foods within this time-frame.
How much vitamin C do I need?
In the UK, it’s recommended that adults need 40mg of vitamin C a day to maintain general health. One orange contains 51mg of vitamin C, and five large strawberries contain 53mg. It’s always best to eat the whole piece of fruit, rather than having fruit juice.
Do I need a vitamin C supplement?
We should be able to obtain all the vitamin C our body needs by eating a range of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. Eating foods that are high in vitamin C, and following the tips above to prevent the vitamin C from getting destroyed in the cooking or preparation process, should be sufficient.
If you think you’re not getting enough vitamin C from your diet alone, supplements are generally considered relatively safe and cheap.
Other ways to boost the immune system:
Getting enough high quality sleep is one of our best weapons against illness. Check out my blog ‘10 Commandments of Sleeping Well’ for some great tips on getting good quality sleep.
Eat a balanced diet
Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that a typical Western diet (i.e. high in processed foods, sugar, and refined carbohydrates) can have a negative impact on our gut microbiome, which then compromises our immune function.
Many studies have shown that exercising for even as little as 5 minutes a day can help with not only immune health, but your mental health as well. My Blog explains why exercise is important and has plenty of suggestions on how to exercise and have fun!
If you would like to take supplements to support your immune system, I recommend Health Evolution for quality supplements which work.
Contact me by email: email@example.com one to one coaching. Or for a 15 minute complementary call.
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