News & Events

With the growing fears of coronavirus COVID-19 where is vitamin C?

March 1 2020

There is now constant social and news media outlet reports regarding the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, its pandemic or rising global concerns, the search for a vaccine, the fears on the complications it can have (i.e. which can include death), where even here in Vancouver, Canada upcoming spring-break trips involving families are being cancelled, people are stocking up on home supplies in droves at Costco, all the while there is an interesting simple experiment in the works in China which involves vitamin C and COVID-19.

At ground zero, in the Wuhan province of China, a hospital is exploring the use of simple vitamin C given by intravenous injection to help treat those infected with the COVID-19 virus and the complications that it causes (i.e. severe acute respiratory infection). A legitimate clinical trial has been created and is listed at the US National Institute of Health (NIH) database. To my knowledge this is a first in the modern global era on the use of vitamin C as a potential immune, body supportive, anti-viral agent integrated into conventional hospital protocols targeting a population group with a potentially contagious virus on the verge of becoming a global pandemic. Personally, I am not too surprised about the progressive stance of China as I have been seeing growing noteworthy trends from the scientific literature on the use of intravenous vitamin C applied in the surgical, oncology, and hematology hospital settings. A PhD by the name of Dr. Andrew Saul here in North America has been talking about this COVID-19 and vitamin C issue for quite sometime on social media and reports to be in regular contact with researchers in China on the matter.

It has been repeatedly reported in the historic literature that vitamin C may play an active role in the fight of infection (i.e. a non-specific anti-viral, anti-microbial agent). For example a 2017 study from Finland by Dr. Harri Hemila MD PhD from the Department of Public Health discusses this potential use of vitamin C and is free to read online which is also listed on the NIH database called PubMed and where dosing information can be found (references below). Furthermore Dr. Hemila and colleague also published in the highly respected Cochrane in 2013 on how vitamin C supplementation could have a role and how it could prevent and treat pneumonia in those high-risk groups and in those who have lower blood levels of vitamin C. Interestingly how many people do you know where their vitamin C levels have been checked when not feeling well? Do you know if you are low or borderline? Are such persons more vulnerable? I don’t know personally from myself either as it is not a routine blood test. Regardless while there is no known or approved anti-viral agent or agents or protocol known to help treat COVID-19 many drugs are rightfully being used regardless in hospital for such positive and potentially life threatening cases. So why isn’t the rest of the world (besides China) also exploring vitamin C into the mix of treatments for COVID-19? I have not heard one word.

What would be the harm with even a more general oral supplementation in those who are worried as a preventative or those who feel weak or are vulnerable for even short-term use (i.e. a few months)? Overall vitamin C can be quite a benign vitamin with perhaps the chance of looser stools / diarrhea-like symptoms for those who take too much orally or have sensitive bowels. The value of the intravenous route is it can bypass the gut and is thus 100% absorbed (i.e. no stomach upset).

People are wearing masks all over the world in fear, in the hopes of protection, and we are uncertain if this approach helps. Can a relatively gentle oral vitamin C program assist here? We know some people are carrying the virus without any obvious signs or symptoms. Is this because their immune system is keeping it controlled? Do they have good vitamin C stores in the body? We need to learn from these people. In one recent 2019 paper from the U.K. by Dr. Myint and team, higher blood vitamin C levels which was used as a marker for higher fruit and vegetable consumption was linked with reduced risk of respiratory illnesses including non-smoking-related cancer incidence and death. A good diet most likely does not hurt along with being physically active. Moreover, fundamental good hygiene principles such as hand washing and protecting / respecting others if you personally do not feel well, are sick, or are feverish are of importance.

Vitamin C has also been shown to help with stress too as its involved with the hypothalamic pituitary (HPA) axis and neurotransmitter function. We know people are scared. From personal clinical experience, in helping patients with challenging medical conditions, vitamin C can have a role. We know that older more senior populations perhaps those with pre-existing health conditions may be a target population for this virus and the potentially serious complications it can cause. Perhaps they should be pro-actively supplemented with oral vitamin C while we learn more.

What people do not understand, including most healthcare providers, is that a person does not need to have “scurvy”, or more severe signs of vitamin C deficiency, to be low or marginally deficient for yet to demonstrate beginning signs or symptoms of inadequate vitamin C levels in the body. People seem to forget that one of the first symptoms of vitamin C deficiency is fatigue (i.e. a sign of the body not running optimally). I know there are many roads to fatigue but lower vitamin C can also be one and especially in those with pre-existing medical conditions. If you are tired your immune system can be too.

I hope to hear more about vitamin C and its potential roles with COVID-19 in the news media and considerations of an experimental pro-active prevention model in more vulnerable population group using supplemental vitamin C. British Columbia has been proactive in its response and testing for COVID-19 and should be congratulated. It would good to also hear about how vitamin C, simple, readily available, cheap, and with minimal risks overall may also play in those affected with COVID-19 but also for its potential applications in prevention while an effective safe vaccine waits. A lesson can be learned from the Chinese model in thinking outside the standard box. This has become a much more concerning global public health matter and no stone should be left unturned.

Dr. Walter Lemmo, N.D.