You probably have Vitamin C in your medicine cabinet, but odds are that you’re not taking it properly for optimal benefit during illness.
Does everyone need Vitamin C? Unless you eat 2 cups of fruits (particularly strawberries, citrus, kiwi, papaya) & raw or lightly-steamed veggies (particularly bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, potatoes) EVERY SINGLE DAY, or take a supplement, you’re probably one of the 100+ million Americans who have suboptimal levels of Vitamin C. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is approximately 65-90mg, depending on adult age and gender, but this was established for healthy Americans. Well over 45% of Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease, and thus require higher daily amounts, 200-400mg. Vitamin C is water-soluble and not stored in the body, and unlike most animals, we cannot make it ourselves, so this needs to be replenished daily.
Did you know? Many common medications deplete the body of Vitamin C! These include aspirin, steroids (including those found in nasal sprays and asthma/COPD inhalers), birth control pills and diuretics (such as furosemide/Lasix). In addition, smokers and diabetics require higher amounts of Vitamin C.
Why is Vitamin C important? Aside from boosting the immune system, Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which helps to neutralize damaging free-radicals in the body. Build-up of free-radicals over time plays a big role in the inflamm-aging (inflammation + aging) process, cancer, and heart disease. As an oversimplified analogy, Vitamin C is like water to a fire. It helps to neutralize the damage of the flame.
Why is extra Vitamin C important during infection (such as cold, flu or COVID)? When you’re sick, you quickly deplete your body’s stores of Vitamin C. Using our above analogy, an infection triggers an inflammatory process in the body (bigger fire) and you need much more Vitamin C (water) to neutralize the damage! At least one study has shown that a person would need to take over 6000mg of Vitamin C daily during infection to keep up with the body’s needs and achieve normal intracellular levels. In fact, the highly esteemed Cleveland Clinic is currently running a study giving 8000mg of Vitamin C daily (in divided doses) + 50mg Zinc immediately after a positive COVID test, for 10 days. Results are due April 2021, but given the low likelihood of harm, and anecdotal reports of many benefits, some practitioners (myself included) are recommending this dosage now. Having treated over 100 COVID-positive patients in the past 6 months, I have made the observation that patients who take high doses of Vitamin C during this illness generally fare much better.
Brand, dosage, and timing during infection? Vitamin C (also called Ascorbic Acid) is widely available, and if you buy a bulk powder (such as Solaray brand), it’s incredibly cost-effective though it can have a naturally acidic taste. NatureSmart Ester-C tablets are a good idea if you have a sensitive stomach, as high doses of Vitamin C can cause diarrhea. Although the research is quite divided regarding optimal dosing, I tend to agree with the authors of a 2013 Cochrane Review (the gold-standard in research reviews) which states “given the consistent effect of vitamin C on the duration and severity of colds …it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial for them”. For my family, I recommend 2000mg every 6-8 hours at the first sign of a cold, flu, or COVID symptoms. If experiencing diarrhea, it’s OK to reduce the dose to 1000mg at a time, but it’s quite important to take this multiple times a day during infection, since Vitamin C gets used up quite quickly.
While Vitamin C taken as noted in this article is generally considered safe, please consult with a knowledgeable practitioner prior to making any changes in your healthcare regimen.
May you all stay healthy, safe & resilient!
Written by Gina Serraiocco MD, Sutter PAMF Physician, board-certified in Internal Medicine and Integrative Medicine. She has a lifelong passion for helping patients discover their innate healing abilities. Dr. Serraiocco empowers patients to gain vibrant health via personalized nutrition paradigms and lifestyle-based programs through the Integrative Medicine Department at Sutter PAMF.