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40% of Care Home Residents Have ‘Scurvy’ Levels of Vitamin C

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A government survey of people over 65 years old found that 4%, that’s almost half a million, have overt vitamin C deficiency, defined as below 11 mcmol/l.

However, in residential care homes an estimated 40% have vitamin C levels below 11 µmol/l, the same as seen in those diagnosed with scurvy, according to a study from the MRC Human Nutrition Research unit in Cambridge.

Scurvy, caused by a chronic lack of vitamin C, killed two million sailors in the 17th and 18th centuries.

With almost half (47%) of all Covid deaths being in care homes could a lack of vitamin C, which is essential for fighting any viral infection, be to blame?

Not only is vitamin C critical for fighting any viral infection, many older people with health conditions need more vitamin C. The precipitous decline in vitamin C seen in Covid is the last straw.

There is growing evidence from animal studies that the efficiency of vitamin C absorption from the gut to the bloodstream declines with age. Consequently, so do blood vitamin C levels. For this reason, some experts recommend a minimum intake of 400 mg of vitamin C for older persons just to keep the immune system and body in good health. An orange provides 50 mg so this kind of required intake calls for daily supplements.

Blood vitamin C levels not only predict who is most likely to suffer from severe Covid, but a study in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in the US, vitamin C levels accurately predicted who would or wouldn’t survive. This is because vitamin C levels drop dramatically when a person becomes infected. A survey of elderly Scottish patients hospitalised with respiratory infections also found that a third had scurvy levels of vitamin C.

Vitamin C is not only profoundly anti-viral, both boosting the immune system’s response but also helping to make interferon which stops the virus replicating, it is also a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants protect the body from the ‘oxidising’ damage that occurs during viral infection, which damages the lungs and other vital organs.

ICUs are reporting the alarming vitamin C depletion in Covid patients.

All bar one of eighteen critically ill patients in a Barcelona Intensive Care Unit had undetectable levels of vitamin C, below the scurvy level.

In an ICU in Colorado most were low in vitamin C, but those who did not survive had the lowest level, with half overtly deficient.

While increasing age is a risk factor for Covid mortality, when a patient’s vitamin C levels are taken into account, age was no longer a predictor, but their vitamin C status was.

Why are older people low in vitamin C?

‘Older people tend to have more chronic health conditions which are often associated with increased inflammation and generation of harmful oxidants. Vitamin C is an excellent antioxidant that can help mop up excess oxidants. During severe viral infections, the body is put under much more oxidative stress and the levels of antioxidants such as vitamin C drop rapidly. In older people, cognitive decline can also result in them not eating as well as they should. While a dietary intake of 100 mg/day, which is equivalent to one large orange or a kiwifruit, can maintain adequate blood levels, when under severe viral attack the body needs way more vitamin C than this.’ says vitamin C expert, Anitra Carr, Associate Professor and director of Nutrition in Medicine Research at Otago University in New Zealand and co-author of the vitamin C review.

The anti-viral effect of vitamin C was the life’s work of twice Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling, who took 6 grammes a day in his eighties. The Linus Pauling Research Institute at Oregon State University says that older people need at least 400 mg, four times the basic recommended level, to be healthy.

The Swiss Nutrition Society which advises their government calls for all to supplement 200 mg a day, plus extra vitamin D, ‘especially for the adults age 65 and older to strengthen the immune system.’

While this would help to prevent scurvy it’s not enough if someone becomes infected. Dr Marcela Vizcachipi, head of Covid critical care research at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital has increased the vitamin C dose she gives to her critically ill patients intravenously, to 6 grammes since testing her patient’s vitamin C levels.

‘I want to see routine vitamin C testing in care homes. Vitamin C deficiency is easy to test with a urine strip. It’s cheap and takes 20 seconds. If it doesn’t change colour that’s a really good indication that the person is deficient. If it changes colour from green to yellow you know they have enough. When you’re younger you might get away with it if you eat lots of fruit and vegetables but older people have to supplement.’ says Patrick Holford, UK nutritional therapist and student of twice Nobel Prize winner, Dr Linus Pauling.

‘With an estimated 47% of deaths in the Covid first wave being in care homes, testing and correcting vitamin C deficiency with improved diet and supplements could make a big difference in the second wave.’

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