We have heard for many years about the ability of vitamin C to prevent or moderate the common cold. This advice was prevalent in the 1970s and was advanced by Linus Pauling, a two-time Nobel laureate. Today, based on more than 50 years of clinical study, there is little evidence to suggest that vitamin C has a beneficial effect on the common cold. There is still a large percentage of Americans who believe this to be true. However, recent studies suggest it may play a role in the recovery from a life-threatening disease called sepsis. Sepsis is prevalent in the US, with around a million cases per year. Mortality from this disease is a staggering 300,000 each year with 30 percent of those afflicted succumbing to this disease. It is the No. 1 killer of patients in American hospitals, with about 1,000 people dying from sepsis each day.
Sepsis is a serious illness that occurs when a bacterium, virus or fungal species infects a person’s bloodstream. This produces extreme effects on the human body affecting blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, and it can lead to multi-organ failure and shock. It is a life- threatening condition that is one of the most expensive conditions to treat in US hospitals, with medical expenses totaling almost $400 billion in 2013. To make matters worse, we have few effective treatments for this condition.
Vitamin C is an important and essential nutrient for human health that is found in fresh fruits and vegetables, especially oranges and other citrus fruits. It is an important vitamin that keeps our bones and muscles healthy. It is important in blood vessel formation and in our ability to get iron into our bodies. Deficiency in vitamin C in the diet can lead to scurvy.
Recently, investigators at Eastern Virginia Medical School reported in the journal Chest that intravenous infusions of high doses of vitamin C, the B1 vitamin thiamine and low doses of corticosteroids may be a breakthrough in the treatment of sepsis. A retrospective study was conducted that compared 47 patients given the vitamin C based treatment with a control group that received standard treatment. The results were astounding. In the vitamin C group, only four patients died from sepsis, representing less than 9 percent of the experimental group, while 40 percent in the control group died. In a follow-up study treating 150 patients with vitamin C, only one death from sepsis was recorded.
More work needs to be done to substantiate this promising treatment. Before implementing it as a general treatment, the number of patients should be increased using a randomized population. One such study is in progress and results are expected soon. One possible concern is the safety of the high dose intravenous vitamin C infusions, which could lead to kidney problems.
However, this could represent a breakthrough that saves lives. And on top of that, this treatment uses low-cost, readily available components. We have seen promising treatments for sepsis and other diseases fail in larger clinical studies, so we anxiously await additional studies to validate this potentially lifesaving approach.