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Beyond immunity booster: how Vitamin C helps us fight diseases?

Vitamin C is well-known for its ability to stimulate immunity. Hot tea with lemon or ascorbate pills – everyone has their way of supplementing themselves with Vitamin C to fight against cold.

However, there is much more to Vitamin C than immunity boost! The range of clinical conditions, where Vitamin C application could be of use, is much broader. Vitamin C matters for the well-being of multiple organs and thus must not be taken lightly!

Did you know that? It is time to know!

Skin

When somebody says “organ” what usually comes to mind is a brain or a liver. Nevertheless, the biggest organ of our body is our skin! Do not be misled by its “simple” appearance. Just one level deeper from what our eyes can see lies a multi-layer structure of incredible complexity. The complexity is a requirement due to the multiple functions of our skin organ!

Complex structure of our skin reflects its multiple functions. Image sourse: Wikipedia
  • Skin is a home for a huge mass of bacteria. These are “good” bacteria – they are a part of our microbiome
  • Skin is a mechanical barrier, that prevents “bad” bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other pathogens from entering our body and thriving on its resources
  • Skin is a sensory organ: it detects pressure, pain, heat, and cold
  • Skin is a factory producing Vitamin D 

Back in the day skin was not only capable of cooling us down but could also preserve the heat. Skin is in charge of “pilomotor reflex” – a reaction of hairs being risen in response to cold. This reflex is of utmost importance for animals – when their fur stands up, it keeps the warm air close to the body. In humans, this reflex is useless, since we do not have fur, but it is still present! We know it as “goosebumps”

  • Skin is a regulator of body temperature: when it is too hot, it cools us down by sweating

With this in mind, one should understand how important it is to keep our skin healthy. How can Vitamin C help?

Recurrent furunculosis

Many people had pimples in their teens – and not a single person liked them. Upscale the pimple problem in every dimension – and you get the picture of what recurrent furunculosis is like. 

Various types of skin lesions, including furuncules. Image source: ACC Atlas of Pathophysiology

In the case of recurrent furunculosis patients have multiple abscesses on any part of the body, and this disease is not limited to teenage years. It severely affects the life quality; furuncles leave scars, they frequently reappear and sometimes can lead to systemic infections 1.

In some cases, recurrent furunculosis was linked to impaired innate immunity. That is when Vitamin C can help! Treatment with 1g of Vitamin C per day significantly improved the function of immune cells and resulted in a drop in furuncles reappearance frequency 2.

Melasma

Melasma on a face. Image source.

Since our skin is exposed to UV light all the time – it has to protect itself from its destructive nature. There are special cells in our skin responsible for the job. These cells are producing melanin – a special pigment. Melanin absorbs UV light, thus not letting it damage our cells.

Melanin is also giving skin its color. We get tanned on the beach for no other reason than a rise in melanin production as a reaction to sunlight. However, sometimes melanin development is triggered by other reasons and can be unequally spread across the body. One of such scenarios leads to melasma – the appearance of dark small irregular-shaped patches on our skin.

While not being dangerous, melisma is still unpleasant to have. Luckily, there are many ways to get rid of it – and one of them is Vitamin C! It was shown, that weekly injection of Vitamin C leads to a drop in pigmentation in women, suffering from melasma 3.

Skin aging

Aging is a tricky phenomenon. Children dream of growing up, but a rare adult would want to become old. Young faces always attract us – and the reason is not limited to artificially created beauty standards of society. Youth is simply associated with health and energy! 

The state of the skin plays a key role in defining one’s age. Color, shape, elasticity, an abundance of wrinkles – all these things mercilessly give away our biological age, disregarding how young our souls feel. Surely, the beauty industry does not stand still and the market is overcrowded with various methods of skin renovation: from millions of creams to mesothreads and plastic surgery. Is there a place for Vitamin C in that variety?

Yes, there is! There is evidence that application of Vitamin C-containing creams and serums can improve the state of the skin. That includes decreasing wrinkles depth, increasing smoothness and elasticity, improving the color, and giving radiance 4,5

Dermatoporosis

Unfortunately, wrinkles are not the only skin problem that comes with aging. Wrinkles are undesirable – but not dangerous and can be got rid of by plastic surgery. Not every age-related skin deficiency can be dealt with so easily though.

One of such tricky deficiencies is dermatoporosis. The main symptom of such a clinical condition is a local increase in skin fragility. There are 4 stages of dermatoporosis: starting from skin atrophy (Stage 1), which can develop into lacerations (Stage 2), superficial hematomas (Stage 3), and skin necrosis (Stage 4), which could be lethal to a patient 6

Example of dermatoporosis. Image sourse

Luckily, complications of dermatoporosis are not too frequent and majorly the disease stays in Stage 1. At this stage, the fatigue of the skin is visually detectable. It becomes thin and dry with frequent appearance of senile purpura – purple bruises-like stains that are seen on the elderly. 

Dermatoporosis is a result of photo-oxidation – a process of skin-damaging by UV light. It is associated with age, because as we grow older – our skin becomes less and less protected. Melanin is an important anti-UV-light fighter, but the skin still needs antioxidants, vitamins, and other necessary nutrients 7

If you are a huge fan of lying on a beach – do not despair! Dermatoporosis can be treated – and that is when Vitamin C comes into play. It was shown, that atopical application of the cream, containing Vitamin C, improves the skin condition of dermatoporosis patients 8

Heart and circulatory system

COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many things. We have realized the true value of toilet paper. Introverts have learned just how far their introversion goes and where the extraverted side starts. Ladies have sharpened the skill of wearing lipstick in a way that it is not ruined by the mask. Not to mention, that the demand for online education has never been so high! 

One thing that we all had to get used to is online shopping. For some, it became the only way of buying clothes or furniture. In some countries, where lockdowns were especially strict, people had to rely on food delivery from the supermarkets!

Wait, was not the heading saying “Heart and circulatory system”?

It was! The thing is, strict lockdown in a way has turned us into cells of our body. Most of our cells are not mobile – they cannot “go to a supermarket” to get supplies. Just like people on lockdown, our cells have to rely on food delivery. Without it, our cells would starve to death! And our food delivery system is our blood. Blood that runs through our veins and is pumped by the heart. 

The heart is the epicenter of a human being. From the bottoms of our hearts, we dream. Heart leaps into our throats, when we are scared. We pluck it up, searching for courage. It gets heavy if we are sad. And it gets broken by our ex. 

In addition to all that, our hearts help us stay alive every second of our lives by pumping blood. Sounds like one too many responsibilities for a single organ, does it not? No wonder, that ischaemic heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world 9. The poor heart simply gets overwhelmed.

The heart is the heart of our circulatory system – but not the only component that matters. As it was mentioned, vessels are also quite valuable. If the vessels are clogged or damaged – the blood will not reach the destination, no matter how great the heart is doing its job. 

Unfortunately, Vitamin C cannot ensure our escape from every heart or vessel disease there is (there are way too many!), but in some situations, it can help.

Cardiac surgery

One more thing we learned from COVID-19 is what the Intensive Care Unit is. Patients in life-threatening conditions, caused by coronavirus-induced pneumonia, are still the primary users of ICU in hospitals these days. However, they are not the only ones. Many other health conditions require ICU no less than COVID patients.

For example, patients that are in recovery after cardiac surgery. The duration of stay in ICU differs for such patients, but it can reach a week. And new patients, requiring ICU, arrive in hospitals every day! With such high demand, it would be nice to shorten the recovery time, would it not?

Vitamin C can help us with that! Several studies followed by meta-analysis revealed that high doses of Vitamin C can speed up the recovery after cardiac surgery. Administration of Vitamin C has cut down ICU time by 8-18%, depending on the condition of the patient. When every minute counts, that difference could potentially save some lives! 10

That is not the only application of Vitamin C in cardiac diseases. It was also discovered that administration of Vitamin C together with Omega-3 Fatty acids reduces fatigue after coronary artery surgery. Thus, patients feel better and recover faster 11

Varices and phlebopathy

Varices is a summary name for a range of vessel abnormalities, but the most known subtype of it is varicoses or varicose veins. This disease affects approximately 30% of the human population. Predominantly it affects the lower limbs of women. Varicoses, aside from being unpleasantly looking, can cause pain and contribute to fatigue of the limbs, making it hard to walk or simply stand.

This is what happenes inside varicose veins. Image sourse: VikiVector / Shutterstock.com

Research revealed that Vitamin C, in combination with other drugs, can affect the diameter of varicose veins, making them more narrow. This treatment could be a great addition to elastic compression, which is frequently used in varicoses treatment at the moment 12

Another danger to vessels of lower limbs is phlebopathy. It shares some similarities with varices: it is also malfunction of veins, which causes limb fatigue. However, phlebopathy is invisible: it does not cause unnatural thickening of the vessels affected. It was shown that Vitamin C as a component of complex treatment contributes to the fast improvement of patients, suffering from phlebopathy 13

What about lungs and COVID-19?

OK, everything mentioned above is interesting, no doubt. However, in 2021 we have a very special disease, burning hot in our minds and newspapers. Can Vitamin C help us recover from COVID-19?

Vitamin C had a lot of potential to accomplish this task. 

First, it was found out that Corona-positive patients generally have lower levels of Vitamin C than normal. The situation changed after the patients got supplemented 14

Second, it was determined that COVID-19 patients suffer from oxidative stress 15. That reminds us that Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which means, it saves us from Reactive Oxygen Species. It was previously discovered, that Vitamin C protects lung macrophages from oxidative stress and also contributes to the regeneration of lung tissue 16,17

Third, as we all know, this whole pandemic is caused by a virus, and Vitamin C had shown some anti-viral properties before 18

It is only natural, that in the light of these previous findings Vitamin C was tested as a potentially useful supplement for the treatment of COVID-19. 

Unfortunately, here comes the bad news. Several studies of Vitamin C in COVID-19 have confirmed, that its application does not lead to statistically significant improvement of the patient’s condition 19,20

Summary:

  • Skin is our biggest organ, carrying out multiple complex functions
  • Vitamin C is efficient against recurrent furunculosis
  • Vitamin C helps in the treatment of melasma
  • Vitamin C prevents skin aging
  • Vitamin C improves the skin condition of patients with dermatoporosis
  • Heart, blood, and vessels is a food delivery company for our cells
  • Vitamin C shortens ICU time and reduces fatigue after cardiac surgeries
  • Vitamin C helps patients with varicose veins and phlebopathy
  • Unfortunately, Vitamin C did not lead to significant improvements of COVID-19 patients

References

1.Ibler, K. & Kromann, C. Recurrent furunculosis – challenges and management: a review. Clin Cosmet Investigational Dermatology 7, 59 (2014).

  1. Levy, R., Shriker, O., Porath, A., Riesenberg, K. & Schlaeffer, F. Vitamin C for the Treatment of Recurrent Furunculosis in Patients with Impaired Neutrophil Functions. J Infect Dis 173, 1502–1505 (1996).
  2. Zhao, H. et al. Comparing the efficacy of Myjet‐assisted tranexamic acid and vitamin C in treating melasma: A split‐face controlled trial. J Cosmet Dermatol-us 19, 47–54 (2019).
  3. Choi, S. et al. Advances in dermatology using DNA aptamer “Aptamin C” innovation: Oxidative stress prevention and effect maximization of vitamin C through antioxidation. J Cosmet Dermatol-us 19, 970–976 (2019).
  4. Rattanawiwatpong, P., Wanitphakdeedecha, R., Bumrungpert, A. & Maiprasert, M. Anti-aging and brightening effects of a topical treatment containing vitamin C, vitamin E, and raspberry leaf cell culture extract: A split-face, randomized controlled trial. J Cosmet Dermatol-us 19, 671–676 (2020).
  5. Wollina, U., Lotti, T., Vojvotic, A. & Nowak, A. Dermatoporosis – The Chronic Cutaneous Fragility Syndrome. Open Access Macedonian J Medical Sci 7, 3046–3049 (2019).
  6. Thiele, J. J., Traber, M. G. & Packer, L. Depletion of Human Stratum Corneum Vitamin E: An Early and Sensitive In Vivo Marker of UV Induced Photo-Oxidation. J Invest Dermatol 110, 756–761 (1998).
  7. Humbert, P., Fanian, F., Lihoreau, T., Jeudy, A. & Pierard, G. E. Bateman purpura (dermatoporosis): a localized scurvy treated by topical vitamin C – Double blind randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. J European Acad Dermatology Venereol Jeadv 32, 323–328 (2017).
  8. Buxton, L., Batchelor, L. & Loynes, T. Workplace wellness: measuring the success. Int J Spa Wellness 1–8 (2020) doi:10.1080/24721735.2020.1770983.
  9. Hemilä, H. & Chalker, E. Vitamin C Can Shorten the Length of Stay in the ICU: A Meta-Analysis. Nutrients 11, 708 (2019).
  10. Gholami, M. et al. The combined effect of vitamin C and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on fatigue following coronary artery bypass graft surgery: a triple-blind clinical trial. J Complementary Integr Medicine 16, 20180113 (2019).
  11. Porto, C. L. L. et al. Changes on venous diameter and leg perimeter with different clinical treatments for moderate chronic venous disease: evaluation using Duplex scanning and perimeter measurements. Int Angiology J Int Union Angiology 28, 222–31 (2009).
  12. Cappelli, R., Nicora, M. & Perri, T. D. Use of extract of Ruscus aculeatus in venous disease in the lower limbs. Drug Exp Clin Res 14, 277–83 (1988).
  13. Xing, Y. et al. Vitamin C supplementation is necessary for patients with coronavirus disease: An ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry finding. J Pharmaceut Biomed 196, 113927 (2021).
  14. Delgado-Roche, L. & Mesta, F. Oxidative Stress as Key Player in Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) Infection. Arch Med Res 51, 384–387 (2020).
  15. Chen, Y. et al. Vitamin C Mitigates Oxidative Stress and Tumor Necrosis Factor-Alpha in Severe Community-Acquired Pneumonia and LPS-Induced Macrophages. Mediat Inflamm 2014, 1–11 (2014).
  16. Jin, X. et al. Amelioration of particulate matter-induced oxidative damage by vitamin c and quercetin in human bronchial epithelial cells. Chemosphere 144, 459–66 (2015).
  17. Furuya, A. et al. Antiviral effects of ascorbic and dehydroascorbic acids in vitro. Int J Mol Med 22, 541–5 (2008).
  18. JamaliMoghadamSiahkali, S. et al. Safety and effectiveness of high-dose vitamin C in patients with COVID-19: a randomized open-label clinical trial. Eur J Med Res 26, 20 (2021).
  19. Thomas, S. et al. Effect of High-Dose Zinc and Ascorbic Acid Supplementation vs Usual Care on Symptom Length and Reduction Among Ambulatory Patients With SARS-CoV-2 Infection. Jama Netw Open 4, e210369 (2021).
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