Coronavirus myth busted: Vitamin C supplements will not prevent COVID-19

Here’s the most important thing you need to realise right now: boosting your immunity will not prevent you from contracting COVID-19.

Myupchar March 13, 2020 13:34:23 IST
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Coronavirus myth busted: Vitamin C supplements will not prevent COVID-19

It’s quite natural to panic when you perceive a threat to your well-being or that of your loved ones. And when it comes to the novel coronavirus strain or COVID-19, which is now affecting 118 countries according to the World Health Organisation, you’re bound to be at least a little worried. 

There are a number of precautions you must take to reduce the risk of catching or spreading this coronavirus infection, including washing your hands with soap frequently, covering your mouth while coughing and sneezing and maintaining social distance. But the biggest threat to your well-being right now is the amount of misinformation available too easily on social media. 

Coronavirus myth busted Vitamin C supplements will not prevent COVID19

Representational image. Image by Jerzy Górecki from Pixabay.

One such piece of information which is doing the rounds is that loading yourself up with vitamin C will prevent COVID-19 completely. This is leading to people stocking up on vitamin C supplements and also eating more oranges and lemons than ever before. But while vitamin C is supposed to prevent the occurrence of the common cold, is it actually effective against the novel strain of coronavirus? Let’s find out.

What’s the big deal with Vitamin C?

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin which is naturally found in some foods, added to others to fortify them, and is also sold as a dietary supplement in the market. As per the UK’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), this vital nutrient is required in your body for the proper synthesis of neurotransmitters, protein, cholesterol, folic acid, antioxidants and aids the maintenance of connective tissues. The antioxidants in vitamin C protects the body from free radical damage, boosts the immune system, reduces the severity of allergies and helps fight off infections.

Add to this the fact that Nobel Prize-winning scientist Linus Pauling has been promoting vitamin C as a supernutrient that can even prevent the incurable common cold since the 1970s, and it’s no wonder that people are assuming that getting enough vitamin C can keep the novel strain of coronavirus at bay. More recent studies, including one published in Cochrane Systematic Review in 2013, have shown that vitamin C doesn’t cure the common cold, although it does alleviate the symptoms to some extent.

Too much of a good thing is useless

So, can loading up on vitamin C actually prevent coronavirus? The simple answer is, no. And here’s the reason why. The daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 90mg for men, 75mg for women, and 35mg more for those who smoke. According to the NIH, when you have a moderate intake of 30-180mg of vitamin C in a day, the body absorbs 70% to 90% of it - and that’s beneficial. But consume 1g or more and this absorption rate drops to 50% or less. 

Obviously, the lesser vitamin C you absorb, the fewer benefits you will get. Getting just the right amount of vitamin C is beneficial in keeping your immune system functioning well and reducing the risk of ever getting scurvy. But flooding your system with vitamin C is absolutely useless because your body will naturally flush out the amount it doesn’t need. What’s more, taking too much vitamin C can also cause diarrhoea and nausea - and that’s not something you want on top of the threat of COVID-19 right now.

And, the flip side to it all is...

It’s also vital to remember that your immune system doesn’t just depend on vitamin C. You need adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, dietary fibre, vitamins A, E, D, K and B complex, minerals like potassium, phosphorus, calcium, sodium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, selenium, iodine, fluoride, etc. Clearly, taking just vitamin C supplements is not going to do you any good. Instead, focusing on a balanced diet which includes all these vital nutrients is a must.

But here’s the most important thing you need to realise right now: boosting your immunity will not prevent you from contracting COVID-19. 

COVID-19 is a “novel” or a new strain of the coronavirus, which means your body does not yet have any antibodies to fight it off yet. This is the reason why developing a vaccine for this novel strain is so important right now. A healthy immune system will, at most, help your body fight and recover from it faster. 

So, think smart, and do not believe in every “hack” or “remedy” doing the rounds right now. Instead, focus on maintaining good hygiene practices, and boost your immunity by getting enough nutrition and sleep.

For more tips, read our article on How to Increase Immunity: Foods and Remedies.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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