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Can large doses of vitamin C prevent or help to treat COVID-19?

Doctors in New York have been prescribing critically ill coronavirus patients large doses of vitamin C, and it is also being trialled in hard-hit China where COVID-19 originated.

But the results of a study at Wuhan University – where 140 patients are being given big amounts of the antioxidant intravenously to establish if it could improve outcomes – will not be completed until September.

At the moment, there is no evidence that taking vitamin C supplements could prevent or cure the respiratory illness COVID-19, a UK health expert has told Sky News.

Posts have also been widely shared online about the supposed wonders of vitamin C, including one of a quote by the late doctor Robert F Cathcart, who said: “I have not seen any flu yet that was not cured or markedly ameliorated by massive doses of vitamin C.”

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Medical health experts say there is limited evidence that vitamin C can even prevent the common cold, let alone fight off the new and unique COVID-19 that emerged in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

Harriet Smith, an award-winning registered dietitian based in Surrey, told Sky News: “Vitamin C does play an important role in immunity. A great example of this is in sailors who developed scurvy due to vitamin C deficiencies.

“However, there’s some very limited evidence that vitamin C supplements may reduce severity and duration of common colds, but only by approximately half a day.

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“Obviously, coronavirus and common colds are very different viruses, so the results don’t apply to coronavirus.”

She debunked the claim that large doses of vitamin C could make a difference, adding: “The RNI [Reference Nutrient Intake] is 40 milligrams a day, which you can easily get from eating one large orange or a kiwi fruit.

“Vitamin C is water-soluble, so consuming more than the body needs will result in it being excreted in urine.”

Harriet Smith is a Surrey-based dietitian

Image: Harriet Smith is a Surrey-based dietitian

She continued: “I would not recommend people take high doses of vitamin C at home, as it can cause digestive issues, such as diarrhoea.”

Ms Smith advised those thinking about upping their dosage of vitamin C to stick to a whole foods, healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables such as citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables and even potatoes.

She added: “There is some research going on to see the effects of extremely high doses of IV vitamin C on coronavirus, however these trials are in the early stages and no conclusions can be drawn. Definitely don’t try this at home!”

Health experts recommend getting vitamin C from foods rather than supplements

Image: Health experts recommend getting vitamin C from foods rather than supplements

While food can play an important role in optimising immunity, vitamin C cannot prevent nor treat coronavirus, Ms Smith explained.

The British Nutrition Foundation say that “no food or supplement, can protect you from getting the coronavirus (COVID-19)”, but added that “having a healthy diet is important in supporting our immune function and many nutrients influence the body’s ability to fight infection.”

Last week, Dr Andrew Weber, a pulmonologist and critical-care specialist in Long Island, said he had been giving his intensive care coronavirus patients 1,500 milligrams of intravenous vitamin C.

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Identical amounts of the dosage are then re-administered three or four times a day, he told the New York Post.

“The patients who received vitamin C did significantly better than those who did not get vitamin C,” he said.

“It helps a tremendous amount, but it is not highlighted because it’s not a sexy drug.”

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To strengthen the immune system naturally, Ms Smith said it is “better to get vitamin C from whole foods as opposed to supplements due to added benefits of nutrients such as antioxidants, which you can’t replicate in a supplement.”

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