A major science review published in Nutrients shows vitamin C can save the lives of those badly infected with Covid-19 and make symptoms of milder infections less severe.

Results from more than a 100 studies, including a gold-standard RCT (Randomised Controlled Trial) which showed that vitamin C could cut the death rate of patients in intensive care units by 68 per cent. The patients got vitamin C or sterile water from a drip.

A similar trial comparing a steroid drug (dexamethasone) with a placebo in June was hailed as a success. It reduced deaths by just 3 per cent.

The amount of vitamin C needed to the reduce deaths and time on ventilators in ICUs ranged between 6 and 24 grams a day, says lead author and nutritionist Patrick Holford.

Another author, Dr Anitra Carr, explained why such high doses are needed. “When you get a severe infection, your body uses up vitamin C at a much faster rate in order to support the immune system.

“That’s because humans are one of the few animals that can’t make vitamin C, so we can’t increase supplies when needed.” Dr Carr, who is associate professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand, points out that only animals that don’t make vitamin C – primates, guinea pigs and bats – are susceptible to Covid-19.

Further support for using high doses come from studies showing that most Covid-19 patients coming into ICUs already have very low vitamin C levels.

“Their levels are often undetectable,” says co-author Professor Paul Marik, chief of Critical Care Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. “That’s what you see in patients with scurvy. This infection induces scurvy. We can predict how likely patients are to survive by their level of vitamin C.”

Marik explains that to stop scurvy one needs high doses of vitamin C. It is also vital for damping down the dangerous inflammation that develops as Covid-19 progresses and can be fatal.

By combining vitamin C with steroids and anticoagulant drugs Professor Marik and others have reduced the death rate of critical ill Covid-19 patients to less than five per cent. “No-one is dying who doesn’t have both a pre-existing end stage disease and is over 85 years old,” he says.

Another author on the paper is David Smith, emeritus professor of pharmacology at the University of Oxford who is presenting the evidence to the National Institute for Clinical Evidence (NICE).

Philip Calder from the University of Southampton, who is professor of nutritional immunology within medicine is talking about the paper to the Nutrition Society today, to inform members of the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee of Nutrition (SACN) who advise government on policy.

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