Fact check: Could taking vitamin C cure — or prevent — COVID-19?
Matt Brown USA TODAY
Published 11:56 AM EDT Mar 24, 2020
The claim: High doses of Vitamin C effectively treat coronavirus
As researchers around the globe race to find effective treatments for the novel coronavirus, unfounded medical advice for how to cure COVID-19 has spread rapidly on social media. One such claim has gained traction online in recent days: that high doses of vitamin C could cure coronavirus infections.
The claim has been shared and reposted on Facebook by users anxious for remedies and preventative measures against the rapidly spreading viral outbreak. But, there is no evidence that the studies alluded to on social media are real, nor is there any scientific backing for the fundamental claim regarding vitamin C.
What the experts say: There is no evidence that Vitamin C helps treat COVID-19
There is no scientific research supporting the claim that taking high doses of vitamin C could help prevent or cure COVID-19. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization state that the only way to minimize the chances of contracting the virus is to take preventative steps against infection.
Social distancing from other people, frequent washing of hands and the cleaning of often-used surfaces are the only techniques on which there is expert consensus that they minimize the likelihood of contracting the novel coronavirus.
“There is some reason to hypothesize that some vitamins and supplements could reduce the risk and severity of COVID-19 because of benefits seen for other viral or respiratory disease,” Dr. Walter Willett, a professor at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told USA TODAY.
Willett also advised that avoiding smoking, eating healthy foods, exercising and maintaining low stress levels are all important lifestyle practices in general and the only surefire ways of building up one’s immune system during a pandemic crisis.
“All this said, it is critical to emphasize that the focus of preventing COVID-19 should be social distancing, washing hands, and not touching our faces,” Willett continued.
Vitamin C has been shown to help reduce the severity of cold and flu illnesses in some trials, though this finding is widely debated by experts. The effect of taking the vitamin is also significantly less than many might expect.
“The only impact that vitamins and supplements may have in any cold or flu is to lessen the severity,” Dr. Caroline Apovian, a professor of medicine and pediatrics at the Boston University School of Medicine, told USA TODAY. “In general, eating well and sleeping well will help your immune system; stress and anxiety and lack of sleep depresses the immune system,” she continued.
Fact check: Will holding your breath for 10 seconds reveal if you have coronavirus?
A research team at Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan, China, began a study on vitamin C treatments for COVID-19 on Feb. 14. The program is expected to be completed at the end of September. No findings have been published.
“Although vitamin C does have some small effect on the common cold, it’s unlikely that taking large amounts of vitamin C supplements will cure a COVID-19 infection — or have a large effect at all,” wrote Peter McCaffery, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Aberdeen, for The Conversation.
Furthermore, some experts argue that advising people to take such high doses of vitamins and supplements can be harmful, as even essential nutrients like vitamin C can produce side effects if ingested in extremely high doses.
Our ruling: False
We rate the claim that vitamin C can help cure or prevent the novel coronavirus FALSE because it is not supported by our research. While there is a clinical trial being conducted to determine if there is an effect on the severe present in some cases of COVID-19, the study is ongoing.
Vitamin C does have marginal benefits for minimizing the effects of cold and flu viruses, however, there is no reason to believe, according to experts, that these benefits also obtain with regard to COVID-19.
Our fact-check sources:
CDC, Coronavirus Disease 2019: How to Protect Yourself
WHO, Coronavirus disease advice for the public: Myth busters
Healthline, Vitamin C for Colds — Does It Actually Work?
Clinicaltrials.gov, Vitamin C Infusion for the Treatment of Severe 2019-nCoV Infected Pneumonia
The Conversation, Coronavirus: it’s time to debunk claims that vitamin C could cure it
Mayo Clinic, Is it possible to take too much vitamin C?
Published 11:56 AM EDT Mar 24, 2020
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