The threat of the coronavirus is scary and stressful. Everyone is looking for any extra edge that can help you come through as healthy as possible. One nutrient that shows promise in combatting COVID-19 is vitamin C.
Media reports show that doctors in New York are using high-dose vitamin C to treat coronavirus patients in the state’s largest hospital system. The regimen, which includes three to four doses of 1,500 mg of intravenous vitamin C daily, is based on experimental treatments used to treat the coronavirus in China.
There are at least three specific ways vitamin C should be your go-to supplement during the coronavirus era:
1. As an immune support nutrient
2. As an anti-stress nutrient
3. As a metabolic health nutrient
This article will take a look at each of these effects of vitamin C and provide tips for supplementing.
Vitamin C For Immune Support
If you catch COVID-19, your immune system will be responsible for fighting it. Vitamin C is an essential immune nutrient that increases the health and activity of a wide range of immune cells that allow your body to fight the virus.
Vitamin C also supports the function of barriers like skin, mucous membranes, and the lining of your GI tract that protect your body from pathogens. And it acts as an antioxidant scavenger, helping to lower inflammation that targets area of illness (in the case of COVID-19 this would be the lungs and upper respiratory tract).
The thing about vitamin C is that current evidence doesn’t show that it will keep you from getting sick. It can’t block a virus from entering your body. Rather, vitamin C makes your body more capable of fighting a virus off.
What vitamin C can do is reduce the duration of symptoms:
In pneumonia patients, a low dose of vitamin C of 800 mg a day reduced the hospital stay by 20 percent. A higher dose was more effective: A group that took 1,600 mg of vitamin C a day reduced hospital duration by 36 percent (2).
Supplementation is most important if you have a low vitamin C intake. For example, individuals with inadequate vitamin C levels who took 1,000 mg of vitamin C for 8 weeks had decreased incidence of the cold compared to a placebo group (4).
Vitamin C deficiency is frequently encountered in ill patients due to increased metabolic consumption and high rates of oxidative stress.
Vitamin C To Combat Stress
We can all agree that the coronavirus era is one of the more stressful times in our generation. When your body is under stress it pumps out cortisol. Not only does high cortisol deplete vitamin C but your immune system is not as robust and you are more likely to get sick. This is the reason that we often associate being cold with getting sick. It’s not that catching a chill makes you sick. Rather, being cold is stressful and illnesses are able to bypass your immune defenses.
Research in athletes shows that taking 1 gram of vitamin C a day for two weeks helped lower the cortisol response to intense training (5). Vitamin C helps clear cortisol by decreasing the inflammatory markers that impact the body’s stress response. When inflammatory markers build up, the immune system goes into overdrive, damaging tissue and DNA, and ultimately putting you more at risk of illness.
Of course, managing cortisol is a lifestyle choice and it’s important to do the little things that help keep stress at bay: Exercise, healthy diet, good sleep, meditation and other forms of mindfulness are recommended. But it’s worth keeping supplemental vitamin C in your back pocket for when the going gets tough.
Dietary sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits and leafy greens. The one catch is that to reach the 1-gram dose tested in the exercise study mentioned above, you’d have to eat at least 16 servings of citrus and greens a day. Therefore, it may be worth supplementing during this high-stress coronavirus era.
Vitamin C To Support Metabolic Health
Metabolic health refers to your body’s ability to burn fat, regulate blood sugar, and use the food you eat for energy. Poor metabolic health puts you at risk of gaining body fat and developing diabetes—both conditions that are associated with reduced immunity. For instance, one of the underlying diseases that predisposes people to complications when they contract the coronavirus is diabetes, so doing anything you can to improve insulin sensitivity is important.
Vitamin C plays several key roles in metabolic function:
First, it is necessary for the body to burn fat because it improves the action of carnitine (an intermediary in the fat burning process). Second, vitamin C helps your body regulate glucose levels, which pays off in better insulin health and less oxidative stress.
The reality is that people who are lean and healthy can probably get all the vitamin C they eat from a diet that includes plenty of vegetables and citrus fruit. However, both diabetes and obesity are associated with low vitamin C levels, making supplementation a smart choice. For example, a study that had type II diabetics supplement 500 mg of vitamin C twice a day for 12 weeks showed significant improvements in blood glucose and HBA1C levels (the gold standard for testing blood sugar health) (6). A meta-analysis supports this, showing that diabetics and older volunteers (who are more at risk of vitamin C deficiency) improved glucose levels and body composition in response to vitamin C supplementation (7).
How To Take Vitamin C:
Vitamin C is a safe supplement and there is no risk of toxicity. To support immunity and combat excessive stress, up to 1 gram of vitamin C a day may be helpful.
In a deficiency state or when trying to combat an illness, doses ranging from 1 to 10 grams a day may be indicated. Doses should be divided and taken two to four times a day at regular intervals.
Hunt , C., et al. The clinical effects of vitamin C supplementation in elderly hospitalised patients with acute respiratory infections. International Journal of Vitamin and Nutrition Research. 1994. 64(3), 212-9.
Mochalkin, N. Ascorbic acid in the complex therapy of acute pneumonia. Voenno-meditsinkii Zhurnal. 1970. 9,17-21.
Bhahara, A., et al. Intravenous Vitamin C Administered as Adjunctive Therapy for Recurrent Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Case Reports on Critical Care. 2016. 8560871.
Johnston, C., et al. Vitamin C supplementation slightly improves physical activity levels and reduces cold incidence in men with marginal vitamin C status: a randomized controlled trial. Nutrients. 2014. 6(7), 2572-83.
Davison, G., Gleeson, M. The Effect of Two Weeks Vitamin C Supplementation on Immunoendocrine Responses to 2.5 Hours Cycling Exercise in Man. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2006. 97(4), 454-461.
Dakhale, G., et al. Supplementation of Vitamin C Reduces Blood Glucose and Improves Glycosylated Hemoglobin in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Randomized, Double-Blind Study. Advances in Pharmacological and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2011. Article ID 195271.
Ashor, A., et al. Effects of vitamin C supplementation on glycaemic control: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017. 71(12):1371-1380