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Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

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  • While some mammals can make vitamin C internally, the gene that codes for that conversion in humans does not work. Thus, we have to get it from our diet
  • Vitamin C works as an antioxidant, antihistamine and enzyme cofactor for collagen, neurotransmitters, hormones and carnitine
  • Diabetes and heart disease are two conditions associated with low vitamin C levels, and that respond favorably to vitamin C supplementation
  • Vitamin C is also crucial during pregnancy, as cells cannot divide without vitamin C. It’s so important the fetus will deplete the mother unless she has high-enough levels to cover both of them. Low vitamin C status can also influence the baby’s risk of jaundice and brain inflammation
  • Acute conditions for which high-dose vitamin C supplementation is indicated include infections and inflammation, sepsis and critical care, trauma, surgery and burns, endotoxin processing, vascular integrity, allergies, whooping cough and vaccine reactions

Important points about this video: Dr. Suzanne Humphries recorded this lecture over five years ago, and I believe there has been a consensus shift in our understanding of antioxidant benefits since then. At the time this lecture was recorded, it wasn't widely appreciated that a certain level of free radicals is necessary to achieve optimal health.

Free radicals, like nitric oxide and hydrogen peroxide, are important biological signaling molecules, and if you indiscriminately suppress them with high doses of antioxidants, you run the risk of unintentionally sabotaging your health. That is why I am not a fan of taking daily vitamin C doses, seeking instead to obtain it from whole food sources, as Humphries mentions as one option.

If you are going to use an antioxidant, in my opinion, it is far better to use a selective one like molecular hydrogen tablets, because if your body is not under excessive oxidative stress it does nothing. But if you are under stress, it will cause your body to make its own cocktail of powerful antioxidants like glutathione, super oxide dismutase, catalase and many others, in the ideal ratio by stimulating the Nrf2 pathway.

However, what hasn't changed, and has become even more clear, is that using high doses of vitamin C can be highly beneficial and frequently lifesaving in acute infections. But here vitamin C is not acting like a nutrient; it is acting more like a natural drug with virtually no side effects. This is discussed in more detail below.

Humphries has since shifted her primary focus to vaccines. Interestingly, one of the vaccines that nearly everyone is concerned about getting is tetanus. She reviews protocols in this lecture that suggest using vitamin C as a drug at high doses can virtually eliminate the risk of death from tetanus. This is discussed later in this article as well.

Last year I was able to spend some quality time with Humphries at the home of Polly Tommey outside of Austin where the Vaxxed bus was parked, which Humphries was actually living in at the time.

Humphries' Vitamin C Lecture

Unfortunately, much of the history of vitamin C as a medical treatment has been overlooked and neglected in more recent years. The featured lecture by Humphries,1 given at the Swedish Society for Orthomolecular Medicine in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2014, summarizes the most important benefits of vitamin C in mammals, including humans. As noted by Humphries in an accompanying article:2

"Vitamin C is one of the safest medical wonders on the planet. Cumulative vitamin C information has been published in medical literature since the 1940's.

Despite the evidence of the molecule as life-promoting, therapeutic, and very safe even in high doses, vitamin C as therapy in high doses has been admonished by many medical entities. The dogma that only 75-90 mg of ascorbate per day is required by any human, is totally incorrect.

Conventional medical doctors are not taught about the mechanisms of action and benefits of vitamin C in medical school. If they knew about it, then not only would a raft of other drugs become unnecessary, but there would not be much serious whooping cough.

Vitamins A and C would render measles much easier to treat. If doctors used ascorbate regularly, meningococcal complications would plummet, and the coagulopathy issues would be rare.

Then, the ACIP wouldn't be able to use meningococcal complications and deaths to get people to vaccinate, because the general public wouldn't be so terrified of those infections causing morbidity and mortality …

Without vitamin C, the immune system is paralyzed and unable to regenerate the ability to dissolve disease-causing elements in the body. Vitamin C is also paramount in combating toxin-mediated diseases such as whooping cough and tetanus."

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Myths About Vitamin C

Humphries begins her lecture by debunking a series of myths and untruths about vitamin C, including the following:

  • Your body achieves vitamin C saturation at doses of 150 milligrams (mg) per day and doses above 1,000 mg are dangerous
  • There's no scientific support for use of high-dose vitamin C; even when ill, you can get sufficient amounts from food
  • Diarrhea from ascorbate is dangerous

While some mammals can make vitamin C internally, the gene that codes for that conversion in humans does not work. Thus, we have to get it from our diet. By looking at the vitamin C requirements of other mammals that cannot make vitamin C, Humphries believes we can get a decent estimation of human requirements.

For example, gorillas eat about 30 mg of ascorbic acid per kilo per day, and guinea pigs require 33 mg/kg/day. Interestingly, when healthy, a goat will make 185 mg/kg/day of ascorbic acid, but when stressed or ill, they can make as much as 1,400 mg/kg/day. This too gives us an indication of the importance of vitamin C during illness, and a clue about the increase in requirement.

Meanwhile, humans are told we need just 75 to 90 mg per day, which amounts to about 1.2 mg/kg/day. If we work anything like other mammals, this recommendation is likely to vastly underestimate our vitamin C requirement.

Smokers are told to add 35 mg of vitamin C per day, yet, according to Humphries, a single cigarette uses up 25 mg of ascorbic acid. If you smoke 10 to 20 cigarettes a day, you're clearly dipping deep into your vitamin C reserves.

Humphries also notes that the way the recommended daily allowance (RDA) was derived was seriously flawed. Not only did they only look at a very small group of healthy individuals, they also analyzed the wrong cell types. What's more, the RDA is for the prevention of scurvy, and that is not the same as supporting optimal health.

Indeed, Humphries discusses Canadian research showing that patients admitted into the hospital are far more likely to be deficient in vitamin C than nonhospitalized individuals. Based on her research, Humphries believes a healthy vitamin C level is around 120 to 150 micromol per liter, not 28.4 mmol/L, as used in the Canadian study.

Ascorbic Acid Is Not 'Just a Vitamin'

Vitamin C is more than just a vitamin. As explained by Humphries, vitamin C works as an:

Vitamin C is also crucial during pregnancy, as cells cannot divide without vitamin C. It's so important the fetus will deplete the mother unless she has high-enough levels to cover both of them.

Low vitamin C status can also influence the baby's risk of jaundice and brain inflammation, both of which are associated with high bilirubin. However, studies show vitamin C can ameliorate the risks associated with high bilirubin. What's more, the two seem to be connected, Humphries says, as babies with high bilirubin have lower vitamin C levels, and those with low bilirubin have higher vitamin C levels.

Diabetes and heart disease are two conditions that doctors see on a daily basis, and both of these conditions, Humphries says, are associated with low vitamin C levels, and respond favorably to vitamin C supplementation.

Humphries goes on to discuss the importance of vitamin C for the structure and integrity of the body. Contrary to popular belief, it's actually needed for skeletal health, good vision, muscles and tendons, your vascular system and more. Aneurysms, for example, are associated with low vitamin C levels, Humphries says. Ditto for atherosclerosis.

Vitamin C is also used up in the process of knitting collagen fibers together. As illustrated in Humphries' lecture, one molecule of vitamin C is oxidized for each collagen fiber "stitch." As a result, large quantities of vitamin C are used to make collagen, which in turn is essential for tissue integrity and healthy, pain-free joints.

Acute Vitamin C Needs

While your body needs a continuous supply of vitamin C for all the reasons already mentioned, there are instances in which you need far higher doses. Humphries provides the following short-list of conditions for which high-dose vitamin C supplementation is indicated. For more details on each of these, please view Humphries lecture.

Infections and inflammation (vitamin C is antiseptic and antibacterial and can be used both internally and topically)

Sepsis and critical care

Trauma, surgery and burns

Endotoxin processing

Vascular integrity

Allergies

Whooping cough

Vaccine reactions

According to Humphries, the medical literature also supports the use of vitamin C for:

Polio

Acute hepatitis

Viral encephalitis

Acute rheumatic fever

Toxic mushroom poisoning

Ebola and other hemorrhagic diseases

Tuberculosis

Infectious mononucleosis

Vitamin C for Sepsis

This is where I believe most of the value of this presentation lies. This information can actually save your life or the life of someone you love, so you need to pay careful attention.

In her lecture, Humphries specifically details the usefulness of vitamin C in the treatment of sepsis (septicemia or septic shock, also known as blood poisoning). Sepsis3 is a last-ditch effort by your immune system to fight an infection in your body, which can lead to multiple organ failure and death unless promptly treated.4

Each year, an estimated 1 million Americans get sepsis5,6 and up to half of them die as a result.7,8,9 According to data10 from two hospital cohorts, 34.7% to 55.9% of American patients who died in hospitals between 2010 and 2012 had sepsis at the time of their death (depending on which inpatient population they were in).

What these numbers tell us is that conventional treatment, which is typically focused on high doses of antibiotics, is often ineffective. The good news is intravenous vitamin C has been shown to dramatically lower mortality in sepsis. The bad news is the number of hospitals that have adopted it is limited.

Humphries' lecture, which took place in 2014, discusses research11 published that year demonstrating the benefit of IV sodium ascorbate in patients with severe sepsis.

The study in question included 24 patients with severe sepsis, who were randomized to receive either "low-dose" IV infusion of vitamin C (50 mg/kg/24 hours) every six hours for four days, a "high-dose" infusion of vitamin C (200 mg/kg/24 hours) or a placebo. As reported by the authors:12

"Mean plasma ascorbic acid levels at entry for the entire cohort were 17.9 ± 2.4 μM (normal range 50-70 μM). Ascorbic acid infusion rapidly and significantly increased plasma ascorbic acid levels. No adverse safety events were observed in ascorbic acid-infused patients.

Patients receiving ascorbic acid exhibited prompt reductions in SOFA [sequential organ failure assessment] scores while placebo patients exhibited no such reduction.

Ascorbic acid significantly reduced the proinflammatory biomarkers C-reactive protein and procalcitonin. Unlike placebo patients, thrombomodulin in ascorbic acid infused patients exhibited no significant rise, suggesting attenuation of vascular endothelial injury."

The Marik Sepsis Protocol

Three years later, in 2017, Dr. Paul Marik, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in East Virginia, published a small retrospective before-after clinical study13,14,15 showing that giving septic patients an inexpensive vitamin C cocktail for two days reduced mortality from 40% percent to 8.5%.

Marik's treatment includes the addition of thiamine (vitamin B1) and the steroid hydrocortisone,16,17 which appears to boost the effectiveness of the treatment compared to vitamin C alone. The precise protocol he used was 200 mg of thiamine every 12 hours, 1,500 mg of ascorbic acid every six hours, and 50 mg of hydrocortisone every six hours.18

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where Marik works, has since made the protocol its standard of care for sepsis, and others are starting to join in. Unfortunately, many hospitals are still dragging their heels, waiting for more clinical trials to be completed.

This, despite the fact that the treatment is harmless in and of itself, meaning it won't make the patient any worse than he or she already is. A 2018 review19 of the available research presents a hypothetical model for why and how the Marik protocol actually works, discussing how each of the three components are known to impact the biological processes involved in sepsis.

As noted in that review,20 reception of the treatment has been mixed, with some critical care leaders embracing it while others aren't using it at all. What this means is that your ability to receive this potentially life-saving treatment is dependent on the hospital where you end up.

On the upside, larger studies are underway. One of them is the VICTAS study21,22 (Vitamin C, Thiamine and Steroids in Sepsis), sponsored by Emory University, which expects to have about 2,000 participants. The projected completion date for this study is October 2021.

If Your Doctor Refuses to Use IV Vitamin C for Sepsis

If your doctor refuses to consider Marik's protocol offhand, convince him or her to review the recent studies cited here that show this protocol works.23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32 Simply look up the references in the endnotes (references 23 through 32) and make copies to take to your doctor.

Alternatively, you can go to PubMed33 directly and type in "vitamin C" and "sepsis" in the search engine and you will get a list of the available research.

These articles are completely free to download. I hope you never need to access them, but if you do, you can print them and use the information to convince your medical team to use these simple life-saving strategies. If they refuse, I would strongly suggest you take control of the situation and find another doctor and/or hospital that will.

All Wounds Should Be Treated With Vitamin C

Another valuable use for vitamin C is in the treatment of tetanus, and since any cut can develop this serious bacterial infection,34 Humphries suggests using vitamin C anytime you have a cut. She cites an interesting study from Bangladesh showing just how life-saving it can be.

They gave 31 children (ages 1 to 12) and 27 adults (ages 13 to 30) with tetanus 1,000 mg of vitamin C per day. Another 31 children and 28 adults did not get vitamin C. In the vitamin C group, all of the children recovered and none died, whereas only eight of the children in the control group recovered, and 74.2% died.

In the adult group, 17 of those who received vitamin C recovered and 37% died. Only nine of those who did not receive vitamin C recovered, and 67.8% died. The reason for the higher mortality rate among adults was likely due to the fact that everyone received 1,000 mg, regardless of bodyweight.

Had the dosage been a mg per kilo dosage, the adults would have received far higher doses, which likely would have brought the death rate much lower, if not eliminated it entirely, as it did among children.

On a side note, Humphries stresses that tetanus vaccination does not eliminate your risk of tetanus. She has many case histories of fully and appropriately vaccinated individuals who have contracted severe cases of tetanus. So, in addition to carefully washing any cut or wound, Humphries strongly recommends using vitamin C on the wound itself and taking it internally right away.

Vitamin C-Rich Foods and Supplement Recommendations

A wide variety of foods are high in vitamin C, including red pepper, parsley, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, tomato and all citrus fruits. You can get significant amounts of vitamin C from your diet If you eat these foods on a daily basis.

According to Humphries, you can further boost the effects of these foods by combining them with flavonoid-rich foods, as they work synergistically together. Examples include onions, blueberries, green tea, bananas, dark chocolate, sea-buckthorn and gingko biloba.

No amount of food outside of acerola cherries is going to give you the dosages you need when ill, however. Even though you could theoretically juice vitamin C-rich foods, you'd then have to contend with higher sugar content, which competes with vitamin C on the cell. So, when you're ill, your best bet is to use a supplement.

Humphries notes that an often-asked question is whether you can simply use a natural, whole vitamin C, such as camu camu, rose hips or acerola cherries. I have about five acerola (Barbados) cherry trees. I have several trees and can frequently harvest more than a gallon of cherries most months of the year. Each cherry has 80 mg of vitamin C, so I can easily get up to 10 grams on days that I eat the cherries.

If you're healthy, or have only mild illness, you can certainly use these types of whole foods and supplements, and they may even be preferable, but if you want to treat whooping cough, for example, your best bet is to use a synthetic vitamin C, Humphries says. She recommends sodium ascorbate and liposomal vitamin C.

Basic Recommendations for Acute Use

As for dosage, Humphries recommends starting out by assessing your bowel tolerance. Do that by taking 1 to 2 grams (i.e., 1,000 to 2,000 mg) of sodium ascorbate every two hours. Once your stomach starts to rumble or diarrhea sets in, note the total mg you've taken — that's your bowel tolerance — and back off to 50% to 90% of that dosage.

I, however, disagree with this conventional recommendation, as I believe much higher doses are needed. If you use liposomal vitamin C, the bowel tolerance issue disappears and you can take much larger doses of 2 to 4 grams every hour until you're feeling better.

Most people improve within a day or two, especially if treated early in the illness. I strongly believe that liposomal vitamin C is a must for your medicine kit to be pulled out for acute viral illnesses. Ideally, you live a healthy lifestyle with plenty of sleep, low stress and limited to no sugar or processed foods, but this is not always possible and when we stray from this we can get sick. Thank God liposomal vitamin C exists.

Conversely, I am not a proponent of taking liposomal vitamin C every day as the dose is far too high and I believe is unnecessary and potentially problematic. I personally don't take any vitamin C supplements on a daily basis as I have regular access to my fresh acerola berries. If I were to become acutely ill though, I would take 4 grams of liposomal vitamin C every hour.

Additionally, I believe there is some truth to the association of vitamin C and kidney stones, as vitamin C is metabolized to oxalate and can increase urinary oxalate excretion, thus increasing your risk of calcium oxalate stones. But even if you don't get kidney stones, excess oxalates are not good to have and you can review my interview with Sally Norton for more details.

To learn even more about vitamin C and its health benefits, see "Was Linus Pauling Right About Vitamin C's Curative Powers After All?" Additional details can also be found in "Vitamin C May Be a Potent Adjunct to Cancer Treatment."