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Is Vitamin C Deficiency in Care Homes Contributing to Increased Deaths? Call for Volunteers for New Research Programme

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Almost half of all COVID-19 deaths (47%) in the first wave were in care homes.

Almost half of all residents in care homes are vitamin C deficient, according to a study from the MRC Human Nutrition Research Unit in Cambridge.

Could a lack of vitamin C be a contributor to low survival?

People deficient in vitamin C are particularly susceptible to severe respiratory infections, such as pneumonia. Pneumonia was the major cause of death in those with scurvy, the severe deficiency disease that wiped out millions of sailors in the 17th and 18th century.

Severe respiratory infections can also cause vitamin C levels to drop dramatically due to the enhanced requirements and turnover of the vitamin during infections. A survey of elderly Scottish patients hospitalised with respiratory infections found that 40% had deficient levels of vitamin C. People who are already low in vitamin C will be particularly susceptible to further depletion due to severe infections, such as COVID-19, and may not survive as a result.

Since 2008, Public Health England and the Food Standards Agency have conducted a ‘National Diet and Nutrition Survey’ which measures a cross-section of people’s vitamin C levels. In their latest survey testing vitamin C in the blood, they report that 4% of those over age 65 – that’s 480,000 people – have a vitamin C deficiency. However, their cross-section excludes residents in care homes.

‘The last study we have of residents in care homes, showing that 40% are deficient, is over 20 years old. Since then, there is growing evidence that older people with chronic health conditions may have a much higher need for vitamin C than the basic ‘RDA’ level of around 100 mg/d – what you’d get in two oranges.’ says vitamin C expert Anitra Carr, associate professor and director of Nutrition in Medicine Research Group at the University of Otago, Christchurch, in New Zealand.

Carr has teamed up with Patrick Holford, UK nutritional therapist and student of twice Nobel Prize winner Dr Linus Pauling. Pauling put vitamin C on the map for colds in the 1970s.

Carr and Holford want to test residents in care homes using an inexpensive 20-second dipstick urine test for vitamin C. ‘The Linus Pauling Institute estimate that older people in care homes may need at least 400 mg of vitamin C – that’s four times the recommended intake and eight orange’s worth – to have normal vitamin C status. We are seeking care homes in the UK who would be willing to test their residents, then supplement increasing amounts up to 1,000 mg, which is the standard dose in most supplements, to see how much they really need,’ says Holford, who is founder of Vitamin C for Covid, a campaign to put vitamin C on the map for Covid prevention. ‘The evidence for vitamin C is even stronger than that for vitamin D, which is now being given to vulnerable people in care homes. Why is vitamin C being ignored? It is inexpensive, completely safe and known to reduce duration of infections and hospitalisation. It could be a lifesaver.’

Holford is part of a team of experts, including Professor David Smith from the University of Oxford, Professor Iain Whitaker from NHS Wales and Swansea University, Professor Paul Marik, an expert in critical care medicine from East Virginia Medical School, and Associate Professor Anitra Carr, who have submitted evidence to NICE and PHE regarding vitamin C for the prevention of respiratory infections including Covid.

‘So far we’ve heard nothing from any government agency. Mainstream media, too, seem to be ignoring vitamin C. Yet, there are over 100 relevant studies and 45 currently underway specifically on vitamin C and Covid prevention or treatment. Vitamin C could improve vaccine responsiveness, especially in the elderly, both of which achieve a similar goal of enhancing your immune system’s response when under attack,’ says Holford.

‘We may be seeing millions die effectively with, or of, scurvy. You can’t survive a strong viral infection with decimated vitamin C levels. We have to find out how much our loved ones in care homes really need to have a fighting chance, and then make sure they get it.’

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