Can taking Vitamin C tablets help prevent or treat COVID-19?
Over the past few years, there have been countless scientific research studies undertaken to better understand COVID-19. And how to best prevent and treat it.
There has also been a wealth of misinformation spread, both in some parts of the news media and via social channels, relating to the virus and its management. It can be overwhelming for the average person to understand where the truth lies.
One question many people might ask is whether Vitamin C has any role to play in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Long promoted as a beneficial supplement in the prevention and treatment of common colds and influenza, are Vitamin C tablets of any benefit when it comes to COVID-19?
What does science say?
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is a water-soluble and natural antioxidant that is essential to health and wellbeing. It is not created by or in the body, so must be consumed via diet or supplements. It is found naturally in an array of foods including citrus, kiwifruit, guava, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Vitamin C has many functions in the human body:
- Assisting with iron absorption
- Bone health
- Connective tissue health
- Skin health
- Immune support
Vitamin C deficiency does not prevent the common cold, but a high dose at the first sign of symptoms may lessen its duration.
A deficiency of this vitamin can lead to scurvy, which results in diseased bones and blood vessels.
Vitamin C and COVID-19?
Medical scientists worldwide have conducted many dozens of studies into the potential role of Vitamin C in terms of COVID-19.
A wide pool of results suggests:
- Vitamin C offers clinically relevant protective effects against infections in humans and may improve the human immune response to viruses.
- The level of Vitamin C can drop significantly in patients with acute respiratory infections.
- Vitamin C may effectively prevent and alleviate numerous bacterial and viral infections in animals and humans. These infectious agents are very diverse and the positive impact of Vitamin C is not restricted to specific pathogens.
- People with pneumonia commonly demonstrated Vitamin C deficiency, and treatment with Vitamin C had potential therapeutic benefits against pneumonia.
- In animal and human studies, the duration of respiratory infections was shortened following the administration of high-strength Vitamin C.
Patients receiving intensive care for COVID-19 had reduced Vitamin C levels in their blood; whether this was caused by COVID-19 infection or was pre-existing was not ascertained. A specific study published in the BioMed Central Nutrition Journal, in July 2021, found that as many as 82% of critically unwell COVID-19 patients had low Vitamin C levels.
- New York’s Northwell Health facilities treated critically ill COVID-19 patients with very high doses of Vitamin C as well as other drugs including antibiotics and blood thinners. Those who received Vitamin C had significantly better outcomes.
- Australian and Finnish researchers reviewed 12 trials covering more than 1200 patients and found that Vitamin C administration in ICU reduced both the length of ICU stay and the length of mechanical ventilation required.
- A narrative review published by Wiley Online Library Health Science Reports in August 2022 concluded that “there is a substantial advantage in taking supplementary Vitamin C” for COVID-19 in terms of reducing severity and mortality.
It’s important to understand that, for as many studies that have concluded a benefit from using Vitamin C to prevent and treat COVID-19, many others found minimal or no benefit.
The research strongly suggests that, while Vitamin C alone is not a “magic bullet” against COVID-19, its supplementation may certainly have a role to play in supporting a healthy immune system to help prevent infection, minimize severity, and optimize recovery.
Science strongly supports the following strategies to prevent and manage the ongoing risks of COVID-19:
- Immunization and booster doses as recommended
- Handwashing and sanitising
- Mask-wearing in high-risk scenarios or if displaying symptoms
- Self-isolation if symptomatic and/or testing positive
- Appropriate use of antiviral agents in high-risk patients with confirmed infection
- Staying healthy by maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and drinking plenty of water
- Further maintaining immune health via stress management, and sleeping well. And taking appropriate supplements, including Vitamin C and zinc, magnesium, and probiotics.
COVID-19 will eventually become endemic:
It currently expects that COVID-19 will eventually become endemic, like seasonal influenza and rhinoviruses (e.g., the common cold). In time, it hopes that the risks it poses to the general population will lessen to become comparable with influenza (as a worst-case scenario).
In the meantime, remaining up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccine doses and taking the appropriate high-quality vitamin and mineral supplements like Vitamin C tablets can only help by supporting a healthy immune system.
Only ever take the recommended dose of any supplement. Always follow the professional medical doctor or pharmacist advice.
Scientific Sources: Frontiers in Medicine; BMC Nutrition Journal, July 9 2021; Wiley Online Library Health Science Reports, August 2022; MDPI Journals, Nutrients, Vol 14 Issue 19.