Admit it: your search history over the last several months has been filled with ways to keep you and your loved ones safe from COVID-19. And something that’s probably popped up in your Googling is vitamin C and coronavirus.
But while vitamin C can do your body and immune system good, can it actually keep you COVID-19-free? Not exactly. It can help strengthen your immune system, but there’s no concrete evidence that it can treat or prevent the disease caused by a SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Here’s what we do know about vitamin C and coronavirus.
Vitamin C is an important nutrient that acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting you from cell damage caused by free radicals (which are unstable compounds found in your body). It also ramps up your skin’s healing powers, helps your body absorb iron, and boosts your immune system.
The average adult should get a daily value (DV) between 75 milligrams (for women) to 90 milligrams (for men). Factors such as pregnancy, certain conditions or medications, and lifestyle choices (like smoking) play a part in how much vitamin C your body needs, too.
Meeting your DV is usually easy if you eat a well-balanced diet. Many fruits n’ veggies are chock-full of C goodness, like:
- citrus fruits
- brussels sprouts
- bell peppers
You can also choose to take supplements if your diet isn’t providing your needed dose of C.
Can you take too much vitamin C?
Vitamin C is water-soluble, meaning it passes through your body quickly and is eliminated when you pee.
While it’s pretty impossible to overdose, taking more than 2000 milligrams of vitamin C can lead to unpleasant side effects like nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.
Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties may help to improve immune function.
The vitamin helps boost the activity of phagocytes, which are immune cells in your body that “swallow” bad bacteria and other nasties (yum!).
And vitamin C is key in helping another type of immune cell, known as lymphocytes. These cells increase your circulating antibodies, which protect you from harmful invaders in your blood.
Some studies even suggest that high doses of vitamin C may reduce lung inflammation in those with severe respiratory illnesses caused by viruses like H1N1 (aka the swine flu). More research is needed though to know for sure.
Vitamin C is also a key player in skin health, promoting wound healing, boosting the production of collagen, and helping your skin shut out harmful compounds that try to enter your body.
And while it can’t prevent you from getting a cold, vitamin C can help shorten the length and severity of the common cold, as long as you’re taking it before you get the cold. Hey, we’ll take it.
How much vitamin C should you take to help your immune system?
Aim to take a vitamin C supplement that is 30–180 milligrams if you want a boost. You can take a higher dose, but if you take more than 1 grams a day (1000 milligrams), you actually absorb less than 50 percent.
TBH… we don’t know. While high doses have been used as part of some treatment plans for severe coronavirus cases, there isn’t enough research available to determine its effectiveness.
Clinical trials are currently underway in China, Italy, and the U.S., but results are still pending.
In one 2020 meta-analysis of nine clinical trials from 2018, a control group was compared to a group receiving IV infusions of vitamin C.
While the vitamin’s effect varied from study to study, researchers did find that it helped shorten the length of mechanical ventilation by an average of 14 percent, but it should be noted that this was pre-COVID.
Other key studies examining the use of vitamin C also happened pre-COVID-19, but some have shown positive results in critically ill patients:
- A 2019 meta-analysis of 12 studies found that vitamin C infusions led to shortening of ICU stays by 7.8 percent.
- The same analysis also found that in 3 trials, the need for mechanical ventilation was reduced by 18.2 percent.
- A 2018 study of people with severe pneumonia at a hospital in Korea compared 2 groups of patients at 2 different time periods — one group was given an infusion of vitamin C, thiamine, and hydrocortisone, and the other wasn’t. Those that received the infusion had better outcomes and were less likely to die. However, this study is limited as it was a retrospective observational study and not a randomized controlled trial.
- In a 2019 trial, participants with sepsis and acute respiratory failure were given either a placebo or a vitamin C infusion. While those receiving vitamin C didn’t have significant improvement in scores measuring severity of organ dysfunction or inflammation, fewer in this group died.
The bottom line on vitamin C and COVID-19 treatment
Evidence that vitamin C can help treat COVID-19 is mixed and limited. There’s still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, including how to treat it. While vitamin C infusions has been used in the care of ill patients, not enough research has been done to determine its role in treating COVID-19.
Without a current cure or vaccine, it’s important to find ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Again, there’s so much about this virus we still don’t know.
Vitamin C is one of several vitamins that your body needs to perform at its best. Making sure you’re getting enough of this nutrient can help in strengthening your immune system, which can possibly help prevent COVID-19. Key word: POSSIBLY.
The bottom line on taking vitamin C to prevent COVID-19
There’s just no solid research that taking vitamin C directly prevents COVID-19.
Until more research is done, it’s best to maintain a healthy lifestyle, which could involve taking vitamin C. Getting those daily amounts of essential vitamins and nutrients can improve your overall health and can help protect you.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies can give you your daily dose of vitamin C, but if you’re opting for a supplement instead, here are a few things to consider when searching for the the right one for you:
- Choose a supplement made by a reputable manufacturer.
- Look for products tested by a third party.
- Take a look at the dosage (and don’t take more than 2,000 mg a day!).
- Skim through the product reviews for others’ experiences with the product.
In need of some solid recs? We’ve got you covered with some of the best vitamin C supplements.
Vitamin C isn’t the only way to help your immune system stay strong. While none of these has been proven to help prevent or treat Covid-19, you can consider these vitamins and supplements for a healthy boost to your immune system:
- Vitamin D. In addition to strengthening your immune system, some research has found that vitamin D can help prevent respiratory illness.
- Vitamin A. Like vitamin C, vitamin A is an antioxidant. While most notable for its impact on vision, it also helps with immune function and is important to the maintenance of your lungs, heart, and other organs.
- Vitamin E. Also an antioxidant, vitamin E helps protect cells from certain free radicals.
- Zinc. This essential mineral keeps your immune system in tip-top shape AND can shorten the life of a cold (no info on its effectiveness against COVID yet, however). Too little zinc in your system can leave your immune function impaired.
- Selenium. Another antioxidant, selenium is a mineral that helps certain immune cells function at their best.
- Probiotics. A healthy gut is a happy gut, and probiotics help it be both. Which is a good thing, since much of our immune system is located in our gut.
While there’s not a cure for COVID-19 (yet!), there are ways that you can help prevent its spread. The CDC recommends the following easy tips to add to your “new normal” routine:
- Wash. Your. Hands. Lathering up with soap and water for 20 seconds is one of the best ways to prevent germs from spreading.
- Use hand sanitizer in a pinch. Sanitizer is great for those times when a thorough hand-washing just isn’t possible. Pro tip: choose a sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Wear a mask. Cover up your mouth and nose when you’re in public or around others. Check out our guide to finding the best mask for you.
- Social Distance. Everyone’s fave new buzz word, “social distancing,” is here to stay. To avoid sharing germs with others, keep at least 6 feet between you and those not in your designated quarantine pod (or with anyone in your pod who gets sick!).
- Stay home. Right now, it’s COVID’s world, and we’re just living in it. So enjoy life at home and avoid unnecessary outings and people outside your pod. *cue the collective cheer from introverts everywhere*
- Disinfect all the things. Show some cleaning love to all the things that are touched on a regular basis, like doorknobs, handles, counters, etc.
- Try not to touch your face or mouth. While this may seem easy, it’s harder than it seems (who else has realized how often they touch their face thanks to this pandemic?!).
Find yourself feeling under the weather or showing symptoms of COVID-19? Keep your distance and stay home (unless you need to go to the doc!).
It doesn’t hurt to take vitamin C as part of your COVID-19 prevention plan, but it’s not foolproof. While vitamin C can help you maintain a healthy immune system, there’s no concrete evidence that vitamin C or any other vitamin or supplement can treat or prevent the novel coronavirus.
There is a bunch of ongoing research with positive results on using vitamin C infusions as a treatment. But, there’s not enough info to know for sure if it’s effective against COVID-19.
Right now, the best way to protect yourself from the novel coronavirus is to take preventative measures and to strengthen your immune system. You can keep your immune system strong by making sure that your diet is rich in essential vitamins and nutrients, like vitamin C.