Vitamin C can Protect You from COVID-19 – True or False?

With all the chaos going on around the world, you must have read the news about different protective remedies to stay away from the effects of COVID-19. Many people must have also noticed that vitamin C supplements got sold in a matter of seconds after the claim in social media that vitamin C could help prevent COVID-19. Scientifically, this claim is still under research to study the effects of high intravenous doses of vitamin C on the deadly coronavirus. Therefore, this means that currently, no supplements can cure or prevent COVID-19.

It is essential not to follow any random tips and tricks suggested by people on social media platforms. Stay updated with valuable information through trusted sources. No supplements or lifestyle modifications other than proper hygiene practice and social distancing can help you to stay protected. Today’s article will highlight the effects of vitamin C on building immunity. Furthermore, we will discuss its link to COVID-19 for prevention.

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What is vitamin C?

Ideally, vitamin C is an essential nutrient and a water-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in our body system. It is a rich antioxidant that helps to neutralize the unstable compounds in our body, such as the free radicals. Moreover, vitamin C helps to prevent cellular damage caused by free radicals. (1) Vitamin C has also been included in various biochemical processes that helps in building immunity.

  • Typically, the daily value for vitamin C intake should be 90 mg per day for mem and 75 mg per day for women.
  • Children under 14 years of age need only 30-40 mg per day.
  • Pregnant mothers should take around 80 – 85 mg of vitamin c per day. (2)
  • A breastfeeding mother should take 100-200 mg of vitamin C every day.
  • Smokers usually require an extra 110 – 220 mg per day to have adequate immunity.

Who should take vitamin C supplements regularly?

Typically, people with deficient vitamin C in the diet must consider adding more vitamin c rich fruits and vegetables in their regular diet. They can also switch to vitamin C supplements to get the daily dose. People with the following situations must consider improving their vitamin C levels –

  • People who rely more on packaged food than fresh fruits and vegetables for most of the days per week
  • People with eating disorders
  • Older adults with a poor diet
  • Infants that are fed only cow’s milk
  • People with food allergies
  • People with hemochromatosis (iron overload in the body that can cause wasting of vitamin C by the kidneys)
  • People undergoing hemodialysis
  • People with gastric problems such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis

How does vitamin C affect immunity?

There are several ways that vitamin C affects your immunity –

  • The antioxidant property decreases inflammations and improves immune function (3)
  • It boosts the collagen production in the body, which repairs and restores damaged skin and keeps it healthy. Healthy skins are crucial to staying away from harmful compounds such as COVID-19 from entering the body tissues. Additionally, it helps to strengthen the bones, muscles, and tendons in the body. (4)
  • It promotes rapid wound healing
  • It boosts the activity of immune cells such as phagocytes that fight against harmful bacteria and other agents.
  • It promotes the growth of protective immune cells such as lymphocytes and macrophages. Additionally, vitamin C also increases the production of circulating antibodies and proteins that fight harmful foreign agents that enter the blood. The deficiency of vitamin C leads to less resistance against specific pathogens.
  • Vitamin C also promotes the production of hormones like norepinephrine and vasopressin, which have a crucial role in preparing the cardiovascular system to fight infectious diseases.
  • It also helps in regulating iron absorption in the body.

Many clinical studies performed with the virus that causes common cold have revealed that vitamin C helps to cover a cold faster and effectively make the symptoms of cold less severe. (5) Additionally, there is some evidence that a high intravenous dose of vitamin C helps to reduce lung inflammations, especially in respiratory illnesses caused by viruses such as the swine flu virus. (6)

However, it is essential to understand that these facts require extensive research and clinical trials to prove the effectiveness of vitamin C. moreover, they never make the mistake of taking a high dose of vitamin C orally as it can lead to diarrhea. In addition to vitamin C some other ways to boost immunity include –

  • Optimal vitamin D and E supplements improve immunity
  • Zinc helps to shorten the duration of cold and flu
  • Iron to combat anemia especially during the viral outbreak

What evidence links vitamin C to COVID-19 prevention?

There are several investigations carried out to test vitamin C as a protective agent against the novel coronavirus. However, there have been many conflicting results. The biggest issue is that COVID-19 is a relatively new disease, and researches are still learning about it.

However, considering previous research, vitamin C has been thought to benefit people against the viral infection. Particularly those with a deficiency of vitamin C and are at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Currently, two clinical trials are going on in New York and China, respectively. These trials are focused on investigating the use of vitamin C against COVID-19.

At present this study has reported a positive outcome in improving the health of the following –

  • Older adults with respiratory illness or acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • People with severe symptoms of the common cold
  • Older patients with symptoms of pneumonia

Moreover, this study proved the preventive properties of vitamin C against symptoms of the common cold in people who had deficient levels of vitamin C.

Despite the positive results so far, a full analysis of this research is still required to site vitamin C as a definite preventive source for COVID-19.

Recently, during the pandemic breakout, the Shanghai Medical Association endorsed the use of high vitamin C dose as a trial treatment for curing patients with COVID-19. This article was also published in the Chinese Journal of Infection Diseases. (9)

However, there is no clear evidence that vitamin C cured COVID-19. Doses higher than daily intake value are typically given through IV to improve immunity and lung inflammation that will keep the patient off of life support or mechanical ventilation.

Many studies also showed that providing vitamin C supplements reduced the ICU stay of patients by 8%. Moreover, it significantly shortened the use of mechanical ventilation by 18.2% (10)

Many Chinese trials are being carried out to record the effectiveness of vitamin C against COVID-19. However, there is no standard evidence that may indicate the usefulness of this supplement in treating coronavirus. (11)

How can you get vitamin C in your food?

As mentioned above, vitamin C is an essential nutrient. This means that the body cannot produce it alone. Irrespective of the COVID-19 outbreak, your body generally needs vitamin C to function properly and maintain good immunity. Vitamin C can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables such as –

  • Oranges – 46-70 mg per orange
  • Strawberries – 50 mg per 10 strawberries
  • Blackcurrant – 60-80 mg per fruit
  • Tomato – 30 mg per piece
  • Red and green bell peppers – 240 mg per one bell pepper
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts

Generally, raw fruits and vegetables contain an abundant quantity of vitamin C as compared to cooked or boiled vegetables. For example, one orange contains 53.2 mg of vitamin C, which is 77% of the daily intake value. Moreover, a 1/2 cup of cooked broccoli contains almost 51 mg of the daily intake value.  (7)

If you wish to choose a vitamin C supplement, select one that has high quality and from a reputable brand. Moreover, buy a vitamin C supplement that has been tested and labeled for purity and safety. It is essential to note that Vitamin C can interfere with the following on-going treatments –

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs (8)

Therefore, it is best to check with your doctor before taking vitamin C supplements. This is the time to stay cautious and alert.

What happens when you have low levels of vitamin C?

Typically, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. Therefore, a minimal amount of vitamin C is stored in the body. This leads to a high risk of vitamin C deficiency within 4-12 weeks in people who do not take adequate amounts of vitamin C regularly.

Hypovitaminosis C is clinically referred to as vitamin C deficiency, where the plasma level for vitamin C is as low as 23umol/L. vitamin C deficiency is a relatively common disorder worldwide. It is the fourth leading vitamin deficiency in the United States. Some of the typical symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include –

  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability and confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Drowsiness and inability to wake up

It is essential to get immediate treatment for vitamin C deficiency. Failure to do so can lead to severe consequences such as Scurvy. Scurvy is a disorder which mainly affects the immune system of the body leading to the following symptoms –

  • Increased risk of developing pneumonia or other respiratory disorder
  • Poor wound healing leading to excessive bleeding and skin sores
  • Frequent bone fractures, dislodgement of joints
  • Weak collagen structure
  • Swollen spongy gums that may bleed easily
  • Bulging eyes

What happens when you take vitamin C in excess?

Since vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, it has many advantages over fat-soluble vitamins when it comes to overdosage. Usually, the body will limit the amount of vitamin C absorption by excreting most of the amount through kidneys.

However, there are some side effects that a person may experience if they take vitamin C in excess, specifically more than 2000 mg of vitamin C per day. Some of these side effects may include –

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach
  • Bloating

Very rarely, overdosage of vitamin C over a long time may lead to kidney stones. This usually happens in people who follow ‘vitamin C flush’ – a practice where people take excessive supplements of vitamin C.

Take away message

COVID-19 is the name people all around the world dreaded to hear. Several trials and research are going on currently to find out a vaccine or cure for treating this virus. Moreover, people around the world are claiming different protective remedies to stay protected from COVID-19.

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One such claim is the use of vitamin C supplements for preventing COVID-19. Many clinical studies and research have revealed that vitamin C can help to boost immunity and effectively reduce inflammation. However, there is no standard evidence that it can protect you from COVID-19.

Having said that, you must also not ignore the fact that vitamin C is an essential nutrient that our body requires daily. It has several beneficial properties, such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions that build the immune systems.

Natural fruits and vegetables are the best sources for vitamin C. however, if you wish to take supplements, consult with your doctor first. Moreover, follow the advice of trusted sources to stay protected from COVID-19, which mainly includes oral health practice and social distancing.

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