The Long History of Vitamin C: From Prevention of the Common Cold to Potential Aid in the Treatment of COVID-19

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Review
 
. 2020 Oct 28;11:574029.
 doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.574029. eCollection 2020.
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Free PMC article

Abstract

From Pauling's theories to the present, considerable understanding has been acquired of both the physiological role of vitamin C and of the impact of vitamin C supplementation on the health. Although it is well known that a balanced diet which satisfies the daily intake of vitamin C positively affects the immune system and reduces susceptibility to infections, available data do not support the theory that oral vitamin C supplements boost immunity. No current clinical recommendations support the possibility of significantly decreasing the risk of respiratory infections by using high-dose supplements of vitamin C in a well-nourished general population. Only in restricted subgroups (e.g., athletes or the military) and in subjects with a low plasma vitamin C concentration a supplementation may be justified. Furthermore, in categories at high risk of infection (i.e., the obese, diabetics, the elderly, etc.), a vitamin C supplementation can modulate inflammation, with potential positive effects on immune response to infections. The impact of an extra oral intake of vitamin C on the duration of a cold and the prevention or treatment of pneumonia is still questioned, while, based on critical illness studies, vitamin C infusion has recently been hypothesized as a treatment for COVID-19 hospitalized patients. In this review, we focused on the effects of vitamin C on immune function, summarizing the most relevant studies from the prevention and treatment of common respiratory diseases to the use of vitamin C in critical illness conditions, with the aim of clarifying its potential application during an acute SARS-CoV2 infection.