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Vitamin C and Infections


Vitamin C and Infections

Harri Hemilä. Nutrients.


In the early literature, vitamin C deficiency was associated with pneumonia. After its identification, a number of studies investigated the effects of vitamin C on diverse infections. A total of 148 animal studies indicated that vitamin C may alleviate or prevent infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. The most extensively studied human infection is the common cold. Vitamin C administration does not decrease the average incidence of colds in the general population, yet it halved the number of colds in physically active people. Regularly administered vitamin C has shortened the duration of colds, indicating a biological effect. However, the role of vitamin C in common cold treatment is unclear. Two controlled trials found a statistically significant dose-response, for the duration of common cold symptoms, with up to 6-8 g/day of vitamin C. Thus, the negative findings of some therapeutic common cold studies might be explained by the low doses of 3-4 g/day of vitamin C. Three controlled trials found that vitamin C prevented pneumonia. Two controlled trials found a treatment benefit of vitamin C for pneumonia patients. One controlled trial reported treatment benefits for tetanus patients. The effects of vitamin C against infections should be investigated further.

Keywords: ascorbic acid; bacteria; bacterial toxins; common cold; herpes zoster; pneumonia; protozoa; respiratory tract infections; tetanus; viruses.

Conflict of interest statement

The author declares no conflict of interest.


Figure 1
Figure 1
The numbers of participants in the placebo-controlled trials for which ≥1 g/day of vitamin C was administered. The numbers of participants in studies published over two consecutive years are combined and plotted for the first of the two years. This figure is based on data collected by Hemilä and Chalker (2013) [68,69]. See Supplementary file 1 of this review for the list of the studies. RCT, randomized controlled trial.
Figure 2
Figure 2
(A) Dose–response relationship in the Karlowski (1975) trial. The placebo arm is located at 0 g/day, the 3 g/day regular vitamin C and the 3 g/day treatment vitamin C arms are in the middle and the regular + treatment arm is at 6 g/day [72]. The 95% CIs are shown for the comparison against the placebo arm. With inverse-variance weighing, test for trend in a linear model gives p(2-tail) = 0.018. The addition of the linear vitamin C effect to the statistical model containing a uniform vitamin C effect improved the regression model by p = 0.002. Previously, analysis of variance for trend calculated p = 0.040 for the linear trend [83]; (B) Dose–response relationship in the Anderson (1974) trial. The placebo arm #4 is located at 0 g/day, vitamin C treatment arm #7 at 4 g/day and vitamin C treatment arm #8 at 8 g/day [84]. In the Anderson (1974) trial, vitamin C was administered only on the first day of the common cold. The 95% CIs are shown for the comparison against the placebo arm. With inverse-variance weighing, test for trend in a linear model gives p(2-tail) = 0.013. See Supplementary file 2 for the calculation of the trend for both studies.

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