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If there were a drug that worked on Ebola you should use it. There isn't. There is only vitamin C. But you must be extremely careful what you believe, because, as it ever was, the Internet is full of dangerous loonies. For almost a decade now, the OMNS has reported on nutritional therapies; we leave the medical politics to one side and work from the facts. Here are the facts about vitamin C and Ebola.
- Taking a gram or so of day of vitamin C won't protect you against anything except acute scurvy; it doesn't matter whether the vitamin is liposomal, nanoparticles, or even gold-plated. Beware of websites, companies, and YouTube clips making wild and unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of Vitamin C.
- Clinical reports suggest that taking vitamin C almost to bowel tolerance every day (in divided doses) will help to protect you against all viruses. Reports by independent physicians have been consistent for decades. However, the doctors also stipulated most emphatically that the dose and the way you take it must be right - or it will not work. There is no direct placebo controlled "evidence" that massive doses of vitamin C will work on Ebola, and nobody would volunteer to take part in that study. But massive doses are reported to have helped against every virus it has been pitched against. This includes Polio, Dengue and AIDS, and it even makes vaccination work better. In the 1980s when no other treatment was available it was reported that full blown AIDS could be reversed and the patient brought back to reasonable health.[i,ii]
At risk or worried about Ebola? This is what you should do.
Vitamin C is the primary antioxidant in the diet. Most people do not take enough to be healthy. While this is true of many nutrients, vitamin C is a special case. Ignore governments telling you that you only need about 100 mg a day and can get this amount from food. The required amount of vitamin C varies your state of health. A normal adult in perfect health may need only a small intake, say 500 mg per day, but more is needed when someone is even slightly under the weather. Similarly, to prevent illness, the intake needs to be increased.
The intake for an otherwise healthy person to have a reasonable chance of avoiding a common cold is in the region of 8-10 grams (8,000-10,000 mg) a day. This is about ten times what corporate medicine has tested in their trials on vitamin C and the common cold. Ten grams (10,000 mg) is the minimum pharmacological intake; it may help if you have a slight sore throat but more (much more) may be needed. To get rid of a common cold, you may need anything from 20 to 60 grams (60,000 mg) a day. With influenza the need might be for 100 grams (100,000 mg) a day. Since it varies from person to person, and from illness to illness, the only way to find out is to experiment for yourself.
The problem with oral intakes is that healthy people do not absorb vitamin C well due to something Dr Robert Cathcart called bowel tolerance. [iii] Take too much of the vitamin in a single dose and it will cause loose stools. In good health, a person might be able to take a couple of grams at a time without this problem. Strangely, when a person becomes sick they can take far more without this side effect: as much as 20-100+ grams a day, in divided doses.[iv]
High dose vitamin C has a short half-life in the body. The half-life is the time for the level in the blood plasma to fall back to half its concentration. Until recently, some people claimed that the half-life of vitamin C was several weeks. We have shown that this long half-life applies only to very low doses.[v] By contrast, the half-life for high blood levels is only half an hour. This short half-life means that for high dose vitamin C the period between doses needs to be short - a few hours at most.
The aim is to achieve dynamic flow, to get vitamin C flowing continuously through the body. Dynamic flow requires multiple high doses taken throughout the day. When separated in time, each dose is absorbed independently. Two doses of 3 grams, taken 12 hours apart, are absorbed better than 6 grams taken all at once. Multiple large doses, say 3 grams four times a day, produce a steady flow of the vitamin from the gut, into the bloodstream and out, via the urine. Some of the intake is not absorbed into the blood and stays in the gut, as a reserve against the early onset of illness. As illness begins, the body pulls in this "excess" to help fight the virus.
The idea behind dynamic flow is that the body is kept in a reduced (antioxidant) state, using high doses. There is always vitamin C available, to refresh the body and other antioxidants. Each vitamin C molecule (ascorbic acid) has two antioxidant electrons, which it can donate to protect the body. It then becomes oxidized to dehydroascorbate (DHA). This oxidized molecule is then excreted, so the body has gained two antioxidant electrons. The kidneys reabsorb vitamin C, but not DHA; the vitamin C molecule is absorbed, used up, and then the oxidized form is thrown out with the rubbish.
The effectiveness of vitamin C is not directly proportional to the dose; it is non-linear. There is a threshold above which vitamin C becomes highly effective. Below this level, the effect is small; above it, the effect is dramatic. The problem is that no-one can tell you in advance what intake of vitamin C you need. The solution is to take more - more than you think necessary, more than you consider reasonable. The mantra is dose, dose, dose.
Types of Vitamin C
Straightforward, low cost ascorbic acid is the preferred form of supplement. Vendors may try to sell you "better absorbed" forms with minerals or salts such as sodium, potassium or calcium ascorbate, and so on. These are irrelevant, if not counterproductive, for high intakes. It is worth noting the following:
- Timing is more important than form. Two large doses of ascorbic acid taken a little time apart are better absorbed than a single dose of mineral ascorbate.
- Mineral ascorbates are salts and do not carry the same number of antioxidant electrons. Ascorbic acid has two electrons to donate while a salt typically has only one. With high doses, the "improved" forms are thus only about half as effective. This is consistent with reports that mineral forms are correspondingly ineffective in combating illness.
- Ascorbic acid is a weak acid, much weaker than the hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Mineral ascorbates may be better tolerated, as they make the stomach more alkaline than ascorbic acid. However, an alkaline stomach is not a good idea - there are reasons the body secretes hydrochloric acid into the stomach, including preventing infection. Furthermore, if you are coming down with a haemorrhagic viral infection, mild discomfort will not be something of great concern.
- For high intakes, capsules of ascorbic acid are preferable to tablets. This is because tablets are packed with fillers and it is not wise to take massive doses of these chemicals. Check the ingredients - you want to take ascorbic acid and very little else. Bioflavonoids are alright, and the capsules may be made with gelatine or a vegetarian equivalent.
- The cheapest way to take ascorbic acid is as powder, dissolved in water. If you do this, use a straw to avoid it getting on the tooth enamel, as it is slightly acidic. You will need a set of accurate electronic scales to monitor the dose. If you do not weigh it carefully, it will be difficult to keep close to bowel tolerance.
Intravenous Vitamin C
Ideally, infected people would be given a continuous intravenous (IV) infusion of massive doses of vitamin C (sodium ascorbate is preferred as ascorbic acid is irritant to veins).
- People who are sufficiently ill will not be able to take vitamin C by mouth.
- IV provides the highest possible blood levels
- IV means continuous drip, not an injection (short half-life)
Unless you are a medical professional who can treat yourself and your family, or are exceptionally rich, IV ascorbate will not be an option in an Ebola outbreak.
Rectal Vitamin C
Rectal administration of sodium ascorbate is a method that can be used in emergencies, and in developing world circumstances, when IV is unavailable or unsuitable. Nurses can quickly be trained to mix 15-30 g of sodium ascorbate in 250-500 ml clean water, and give it by enema. It can be safely and effectively used in children. An enema also removes from the bowel material that may be challenging. This has been done successfully with aboriginal people in the Australian outback.
In healthy people, liposomes help the absorption of oral vitamin C; in some circumstances this is also true for sick people. However, we need to dispel some popular myths.
In a healthy person, higher blood levels (about 600 microM/L) can be achieved using liposomal vitamin C compared with standard ascorbic acid (about 250 microM/L). We were the first to demonstrate this fact experimentally.[vi] However, the two absorption methods are different and if both are used together the resultant plasma levels are additive (something like 600 + 250 = 850 microM/L). Since ascorbic acid is much cheaper than liposomal vitamin C, it is cost effective for a healthy person to start with ascorbic acid and top up with liposomes as required.
When a person becomes ill they can absorb massive doses of standard ascorbic acid, using the dynamic flow approach. So if you are sick, taking a gram of liposomal vitamin C instead of a gram of cheap ascorbic acid will provide little extra benefit. Both will be well absorbed , and the liposome contains sodium ascorbate which is less effective. Liposomes only provide added benefit once the sick person has approached bowel tolerance levels, using standard ascorbic acid.
Liposomal vitamin C is NOT more effective than IV for fighting acute infections. This suggestion is unscientific and unsupported by data. We prefer liposomes for chronic infections and cancer, but this does not extend to acute illness. There is also a lot of hype around the fact that liposomes can be absorbed directly into cells. Many liposomes are absorbed from the gut and pass into the liver, where they are stored and the vitamin C released. Liposomes may also float around in the bloodstream, lymph nodes, and so on, waiting to release their contents or be taken up by cells. But the cells that take up the liposomes are not necessarily those that are most in need of vitamin C. Moreover cells may suffer side effects; liposomes are basically nanotechnology and have additional theoretical issues.