By Joseph Sciabbarrasi, MD
One thing we’ve learned as the pandemic has unfolded is that the effects of COVID-19 are often longer-lasting and more extensive than we once thought. As the lead author of a recent study (1) in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society put it (1b), “We found that fatigue, ill-health and breathlessness were all common following COVID-19.”
Most disturbingly, these researchers found that such lingering effects weren’t related to how severe the infection was. They were seen even in mild cases. Others have reported problems with muscle weakness, memory, mood, joint pain, hair loss, and loss of taste or smell even after patients had recovered from the infection (2 – 7).
These risks underscore the need for protection and early intervention against the growing and mutating threat properly known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
Personal measures are crucial: distancing, handwashing, masking, quarantine as needed, and avoiding social settings. Here in California, they’ve resulted in a significant reduction in COVID’s spread. Vaccinations are important, too. They mean significant protection from serious illness. (For more on the vaccine, see our recent FAQ.)
The need for protection has also prompted more research on non-pharmaceutical options as treatment supports, including vitamin C. This nutrient has been a regular part of my practice, as well as my personal care, for more than 25 years.
There are good reasons it’s being considered as a defense against COVID-19. So let’s take a look at the science, both in the lab, as well as in hospitals and other treatment centers around the world.
PLEASE NOTE: Intravenous vitamin C is NOT a treatment for COVID-19. It is being investigated as a potentially valuable support when used along with medications in the active treatment of COVID patients to promote their recovery.
How Vitamin C Protects & Supports Your Immune System
White blood cells fight infection by first being activated, then moving to where the infection is. There, they attack, engulf, and destroy the infecting virus or bacteria. Vitamin C helps with these functions, while also protecting the immune cells from the toxins they release to destroy the invaders. It raises antibody levels and is a very effective antioxidant. In fact, it’s such an important component of the immune system that white blood cells contain C levels up to 100 times higher than in the blood (8 – 15). In laboratory settings, vitamin C has shown direct viral killing ability (16).
Vitamin C’s Anti-inflammatory Action
To really understand the potential of vitamin C in the fight against COVID-19, you need to understand the core issue involved in fighting such viral infections: inflammation.
When controlled, inflammation is essential to your health. It’s your first response to infection. Your immune system creates it in viral infections to prevent them from spreading and doing further damage. Immune cells release signalling molecules called cytokines, which help guide your innate immune response.
But in some infections – including pneumonia, sepsis, and severe COVID-19 – the release of cytokines can be too much, too fast. This is known as a cytokine storm. The inflammation becomes excessive. This can damage the lungs, heart, kidneys, and brain. It can be rapidly fatal.
As an antioxidant, vitamin C can reduce cytokine production and inflammation (17). This has even been seen in cases of excessive inflammation without infection, such as asthma (18). Intravenous C has been studied as a treatment for both severe flu and sepsis (19-22).
Judiciously administered, both IV and oral vitamin C has proven effective against a variety of other viral illnesses, including viral myocarditis in children (23), chronic hepatitis C (24 – 25), shingles infection and post-infection pain (26 – 27), and Epstein-Barr (28).
To be continued…
1b. Staff. Fatigue persists after COVID-19 , but not much lung scarring found. US Pharmacist. https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/fatigue-persists-after-covid19-but-not-much-lung-scarring-found-1. Published January 26, 2021. Accessed February 6, 2021.
3. COVID-19 (coronavirus): Long-term effects. Mayo Clinic Staff. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases/conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-long-term-effects/art-20490351. Accessed February 6, 2021.
4. Carfi A, et al. Persistent symptoms in patients after acute COVID-19. JAMA. 2020; doi:10.1001/jama.2020.12603.
5. Teneforde MW, et al. Symptom duration and risk factors for delayed return to usual health among outpatients with COVID-19 in a multistate health care systems network — United States, March-June 2020. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2020; doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6930e1
6. Yancy CW, et al. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the heart — Is heart failure the next chapter? JAMA Cardiology. 2020; doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2020.3575.
7. Long-term effects of COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects.html. Accessed February 6, 2021.
8. Anderson R, Oosthuizen R, Maritz R, Theron A, Van Rensburg AJ. The effects of increasing weekly doses of ascorbate on certain cellular and humoral immune functions in normal volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr. 1980;33(1):71-76.
9. Anderson R. The immunostimulatory, antiinflammatory and anti-allergic properties of ascorbate. Adv Nutr Res. 1984;6:19-45.
10. Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and immune function. Nutrients. (2017) 9:1211. 10.3390/nu9111211.
11. Jariwalla RJ, Harakeh S. Mechanisms underlying the action of vitamin C in viral and immunodeficiency disease. In: L. P, J. F, eds. Vitamin C in Health and Disease. New York: Macel Dekker, Inc.; 1997:309-322.
12. Feigen GA, Smith BH, Dix CE, et al. Enhancement of antibody production and protection against systemic anaphylaxis by large doses of vitamin C. Res Commun Chem Pathol Pharmacol. 1982;38(2):313-333.
13. Carr A, Frei B. Does vitamin C act as a pro-oxidant under physiological conditions? FASEB J. 1999;13:1007–1024.
14. Washko P, Rotrosen D, Levine M. Ascorbic acid transport and accumulation in human neutrophils. J. Biol. Chem. 1989;264:18996–19002.
15. Bozonet SM, Carr AC, Pullar JM, Vissers MC. Enhanced human neutrophil ASC status, chemotaxis and oxidant generation following dietary supplementation with ASC-rich SunGold kiwifruit. Nutrients 2015, 7, 2574–2588.
20. Kim Y, et al. Vitamin C is an essential factor on the anti-viral immune responses through the production of interferon-α/β at the initial stage of influenza A virus (H3N2) infection. Immune Netw. 2013, 13, 70–74.
21. Fowler III AA, et al. Phase I safety trial of intravenous ascorbic acid in patients with severe sepsis. J Transl Med. 2014; 12: 32. Published online 2014 Jan 31. doi: 10.1186/1479-5876-12-32
22. Zabet MH, Mohammadi M, Ramezani M, Khalili H. Effect of high-dose ascorbic acid on vasopressor’s requirement in septic shock J Res Pharm Pract. 2016 Apr-Jun; 5(2): 94–100. doi: 10.4103/2279-042X.179569.
24. Gabbay E, et al. Antioxidant therapy for chronic hepatitis C after failure of interferon: results of phase II randomized, double-blind placebo controlled clinical trial. World J Gastroenterol. 2007 Oct 28;13(40):5317-23. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v13.i40.5317.
25. Melhem A, et al. Treatment of chronic hepatitis C virus infection via antioxidants: results of a phase I clinical trial. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2005. PMID: 16082287 Clinical Trial.
26. Schencking M, Vollbracht C, Weiss G, Lebert J, Biller A, Goyvaerts B, Kraft K. Intravenous vitamin C in the treatment of shingles: results of a multicenter prospective cohort study. Med Sci Monit. 2012 Apr;18(4):CR215-24. doi: 10.12659/msm.882621.
27. Kim MS, Kim DJ, Na CH, Shin BS. A Study of Intravenous Administration of Vitamin C in the Treatment of Acute Herpetic Pain and Postherpetic Neuralgia. Ann Dermatol. 2016 Dec;28(6):677-683. doi: 10.5021/ad.2016.28.6.677. Epub 2016 Nov 23.