Vitamin C for the critically ill: Is the evidence strong enough?

Nutrition. 2019 Apr;60:185-190. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2018.10.009. Epub 2018 Oct 22.


Vitamin C exhibits interesting properties in the context of critical illness, with benefits described in neurologic, cardiovascular, renal, and hematologic systems, both in in vitro and in animal models. Through direct effects on bacterial replication, immunomodulation, and antioxidant reserve of the organism, vitamin C directly affects the pathophysiological process of sepsis, trauma, burn, and systemic inflammation. Even if several observational trials have linked vitamin C deficiency to worse outcomes, the evidence is not such as to provide us with a distinction between causality effects or simple epiphenomenon, and the current focus is on interventional trials. Pharmacokinetic data suggest that a minimal supplementation of 3 g/d intravenously is required to restore normal serum values in critically ill patients with known deficiency. According to these data, only five trials, including a retrospective analysis, studied pharmacologic dose: three as an antioxidant cocktail and two as monotherapy. The largest trial, conducted in 2002, reported reduced incidence of multiorgan failure and duration of mechanical ventilation. Recently a retrospective analysis reported impressive results after administration of vitamin C, thiamine, and hydrocortisone. The two most recent trials reported improved clinical outcomes, including improved mortality, but contained significant methodological limitations. A recent systematic review did not find clinical benefits with the most-studied low-dose oral supplementation, potentially because of suboptimal or insufficient repletion. Current guidelines do not support the administration of high-dose vitamin C in critically ill patients. Future larger trials are required to support any therapy, but the low cost and safety profile can justify supplementation in the meantime. Metabolomics study will further help understand biological effect.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intravenous
  • Ascorbic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Ascorbic Acid Deficiency / etiology
  • Ascorbic Acid Deficiency / therapy*
  • Critical Illness / therapy*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Humans
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vitamins / administration & dosage*


  • Vitamins
  • Ascorbic Acid