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The role of Vitamin C in fighting COVID-19 pandemic

Updated: Sep 17, 2020 8:47 AM

COVID-19 is slightly more communicable than the common flu and less communicable than the most highly infectious viruses, like measles.

Vitamin C levels in white blood cells (immune cells) are ten times higher than in plasma, which indicates functional role of the vitamin in these immune cells.

By Dr. K. Arul

At the outset, I would like to remind everyone that the flu (Influenza) affects over ten lakh people every year and as many as 100,000 patients die from it. In the same way, COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV 2, is nothing but a serious flu. The only difference is that proper treatment guidelines have been established for the flu whereas with COVID-19, being caused by a novel virus, there is still much debate about the proper treatment guidelines. COVID-19 is slightly more communicable than the common flu and less communicable than the most highly infectious viruses, like measles. It is also found that the virus can survive, for three hours, floating through the air, transmitted by the tiny respiratory droplets when an infected person exhales, sneezes, or coughs out.

At the end of the day, as with any viral infection, our own immune system has to get rid of it. This fact is exemplified by countries like South Korea who carried out thousands of tests and found that more than half the people had already gotten the infection and come out of it but never showed any symptoms. The reason being, robustness of the immune system which took care of the virus even before the virus could mount an attack.

Even in India, many have tested positive but showed no symptoms whatsoever. Only a small percentage of people (around 5 percent average), with pre-existing co-morbidities which make them immune-compromised, progress to severe respiratory distress and require ICU care.

In severe COVID-19 cases, according to scientists’ current understanding is, the disease may have more to do with a haywire immune response to the virus than anything else. Because the virus can gain a foothold in our lower respiratory system while still wearing that invisibility cloak, it basically beats the immune system and starts replicating too rapidly. When the immune system finally does register its presence, it might go into overdrive, and send everything in its arsenal to attack, since it has no specific antibodies to fight these strange new invaders. “It’s like pouring gas on the fire”. This excessive immune activity once the virus gets established in the lungs is what leads to fluid build-up in the alveolar spaces leading to oxygen deprivation requiring ventilation.

Role of Vitamin C in COVID-19:

Vitamin C was identified in the early twentieth century by Albert Szent-Gyorgi in the search for a substance, the deficiency of which would cause scurvy. Scurvy was associated with pneumonia in the early literature, which implies that the factor that cured scurvy might also have an effect on pneumonia.

In the 1970s, Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling popularised the use of high doses of Vitamin C for the treatment of common cold. The rationale behind this is the fact that animals increase their endogenous production of Vitamin C (around 10g) when they go through any illness. Since humans have lost the ability to synthesise Vitamin C, we are deprived of this essential nutrient and anti-oxidant. Vitamin C cannot be stored in the body and requires daily intake to maintain adequate levels. This combined with smoking, poor lifestyle, not consuming enough nutritious foods leads to a majority of the population being sub-clinically Vitamin C deficient.

Many studies in the 1950s and 1960s assessed Vitamin C deficiency and Pneumonia and found that patients with a low Vitamin C intake required hospitalisation much longer than those who had adequate amounts.

For the prevention and treatment of viral respiratory tract infections, it is recommended to take 4-6 grams of Vitamin C per day. In a clinical study conducted with 500 subjects, 4-6g of Vitamin C per day showed an 85 percent reduction in cold and flu symptoms. To those who think they can get adequate Vitamin C from citrus fruits, you have to understand that you need to consume as many as 20 oranges to get 1g of Vitamin C which is impossible.

How does Vitamin C work?

With COVID-19, we know that the main reason for the extensive lung injury is the excessive free radicals and oxidative stress mounted by the dysfunctional immune system in an effort to kill the virus but end up harming the patient instead. Vitamin C, a water soluble powerful anti-oxidant, can neutralise these free radicals and reduce oxidative damage to the lungs. When the balance between oxidants and anti-oxidants is lost, that’s when the damage happens and patients progress to severe disease. By administering adequate Vitamin C, we can increase the anti-oxidant status of our body.

Vitamin C levels in white blood cells (immune cells) are ten times higher than in plasma, which indicates functional role of the vitamin in these immune cells. Vitamin C has been shown to affect the functions of phagocytes, production of interferon, replication of viruses, and maturation of T-lymphocytes. Vitamin C also protects these immune cells from oxidative damage when they try to clear out bacteria, viruses, etc. Hundreds of clinical studies have shown that Vitamin C has a positive impact on many infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.

Vitamin C at doses of 4-6g is absolutely safe and causes no side effects whatsoever. It is especially useful for the elderly and for those with pre-existing conditions to strengthen their immunity.

Many hospitals in New York, China and Shanghai have already begun using Intravenous Vitamin C to treat patients with severe COVID-19 infections. Anecdotal evidence from these centres suggests promising results.

Let us not wait till the situation develops further. Let us all start taking Vitamin C from now. It is about strengthening your immunity and preventing a mild flu from becoming a life threatening condition. Basically the idea is to strengthen the immunity of the body to fight the virus than to find remedies for the virus. This search for remedy will take months and we cannot wait for this period. The best option is to fortify the immune system of the body to ward off the infection.

(The author is Senior Integrative Medicine Consultant, Mirakle Wellness Clinic, Pollachi. Views expressed are personal. The above article is for information purposes only. Please consult a medical professional before starting any medication or supplement.)