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In a mad dash to discover effective treatment for the novel coronavirus, doctors and scientists are testing existing antivirals, antimalarials, monoclonal antibodies, and other medications against COVID-19. Now Chinese teams are adding vitamin C to the list of potential therapies.
ZhiYong Peng, MD of the Department of Critical Care Medicine at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University recently registered a phase 2 clinical trial on ClinicalTrials.gov to test the efficacy of vitamin C infusions for the treatment of severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) associated with the novel coronavirus.
The study description notes that vitamin C is an antioxidant that may help prevent cytokine-induced damage to the lungs. Cytokines are small proteins released by cells, which trigger inflammation and respond to infections, according to MedicineNet author William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR. Severe lung inflammation with COVID-19 may result in respiratory distress and even death.
The clinical trial description states that vitamin C reduces the inflammatory response, and both prevents and shortens the duration of the common cold. The description further states that insufficient vitamin C is related to an increased risk and severity of influenza infections. The team aims to see if vitamin C has similar effects against viral pneumonia associated with COVID-19.
However not all experts agree. MedicineNet content reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD states, "Your immune system does need vitamin C to work right. But extra won't help you avoid a cold. It may make it go away faster or not feel as bad – if you were taking it before you got sick."
Currently, there are no effective targeted antiviral medications for COVID-19. The main treatment consists of supportive therapy to manage symptoms.
Participants in the experimental group will receive 24 grams of IV vitamin C per day for 7 days. That's more than 260 times the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin C for adults and children age 4 years old and up, which is 90 mg per day.
In a series of YouTube videos released within the last two weeks, Richard Cheng MD, PhD, Chinese Edition Editor of the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service states there are at least three clinical trials in China studying the effects of high-dose IV vitamin C for the treatment of COVID-19. He mentions the Shanghai Medical Association has released an expert consensus statement on the comprehensive treatment of COVID-19 where they endorse the use of high-dose IV vitamin C for the illness.
To the best of his knowledge, Dr. Cheng said the so-called "Shanghai Plan" published on March 1 is the first and only official government guideline for using vitamin C for something as serious as the novel coronavirus. He said there is a push to get additional Chinese hospital groups to study oral liposomal vitamin C for treatment of the virus because oral forms can be administered rapidly and widely to large numbers of affected patients.
Dr. Cheng states that the principle investigator of the first high-dose IV vitamin C trial in China has told him that the preliminary results of the study are promising. The investigator said the administration of 24 grams per day to COVID-19 patients leads to significant reductions in inflammation. Dr. Cheng said this is notable because massive inflammation in the lungs and potentially other organs may be fatal in the illness.
MedicineNet author Betty Kovacs Harbolic MS, RD adds that vitamin C is generally safe but, "Large doses of vitamin C may cause stomach upset and diarrhea in adults and have been reported to cause kidney stones."
Will vitamin C be effective to prevent and treat novel coronavirus? Hopefully, ongoing studies will provide the answer. Follow the guidance of your health care professionals if you have questions about vitamin C or other supplements. In the meantime, take the recommended precautions to keep yourself and loved ones safe from the virus, including avoiding close contact with those who are sick and washing your hands frequently. Seek medical attention if you develop fever, coughing, and shortness of breath.