Background: Asthma exacerbations are often induced by the common cold, which, in turn, can be alleviated by vitamin C.
Objective: To investigate whether vitamin C administration influences common cold-induced asthma.
Methods: Systematic review and statistical analysis of the identified trials. Medline, Scopus and Cochrane Central were searched for studies that give information on the effects of vitamin C on common cold-induced asthma. All clinically relevant outcomes related to asthma were included in this review. The estimates of vitamin C effect and their confidence intervals [CI] were calculated for the included studies.
Results: Three studies that were relevant for examining the role of vitamin C on common cold-induced asthma were identified. The three studies had a total of 79 participants. Two studies were randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trials. A study in Nigeria on asthmatics whose asthma attacks were precipitated by respiratory infections found that 1 g/day vitamin C decreased the occurrence of asthma attacks by 78% (95% CI: 19% to 94%). A cross-over study in former East-Germany on patients who had infection-related asthma found that 5 g/day vitamin C decreased the proportion of participants who had bronchial hypersensitivity to histamine by 52 percentage points (95% CI: 25 to 71). The third study did not use a placebo. Administration of a single dose of 1 gram of vitamin C to Italian non-asthmatic common cold patients increased the provocative concentration of histamine (PC20) 3.2-fold (95% CI: 2.0 to 5.1), but the vitamin C effect was significantly less when the same participants did not suffer from the common cold.
Conclusions: The three reviewed studies differed substantially in their methods, settings and outcomes. Each of them found benefits from the administration of vitamin C; either against asthma attacks or against bronchial hypersensitivity, the latter of which is a characteristic of asthma. Given the evidence suggesting that vitamin C alleviates common cold symptoms and the findings of this systematic review, it may be reasonable for asthmatic patients to test vitamin C on an individual basis, if they have exacerbations of asthma caused by respiratory infections. More research on the role of vitamin C on common cold-induced asthma is needed.