Does Vitamin C prevent pneumonia?

Hemila H, Louhiala P. Vitamin C for preventing and treating pneumonia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Aug 8;8:CD005532. (Review) PMID: 23925826

BACKGROUND: Pneumonia is one of the most common serious infections, causing two million deaths annually among young children in low-income countries. In high-income countries, pneumonia is mostly a problem of the elderly.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the prophylactic and therapeutic effects of vitamin C on pneumonia.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL 2013, Issue 3, MEDLINE (1950 to March week 4, 2013), EMBASE (1974 to April 2013) and Web of Science (1955 to April 2013).

SELECTION CRITERIA: To assess the therapeutic effects of vitamin C, we selected placebo-controlled trials. To assess prophylactic effects, we selected controlled trials with or without a placebo.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently read the trial reports and extracted data.

MAIN RESULTS: We identified three prophylactic trials which recorded 37 cases of community-acquired pneumonia in 2335 people. Only one was satisfactorily randomised, double-blinde, and placebo-controlled. Two trials examined military recruits and the third studied boys from “lower wage-earning classes” attending a boarding school in the UK during World War II. Each of these three trials found a statistically significant (80% or greater) reduction in pneumonia incidence in the vitamin C group. We identified two therapeutic trials involving 197 community-acquired pneumonia patients. Only one was satisfactorily randomised, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled. That trial studied elderly patients in the UK and found lower mortality and reduced severity in the vitamin C group; however, the benefit was restricted to the most ill patients. The other therapeutic trial studied adults with a wide age range in the former Soviet Union and found a dose-dependent reduction in the duration of pneumonia with two vitamin C doses. We identified one prophylactic trial recording 13 cases of hospital-acquired pneumonia in 37 severely burned patients; one-day administration of vitamin C had no effect on pneumonia incidence. The identified studies are clinically heterogeneous which limits their comparability. The included studies did not find adverse effects of vitamin C.

AUTHORS’ CONCLUSIONS: The prophylactic use of vitamin C to prevent pneumonia should be further investigated in populations who have a high incidence of pneumonia, especially if dietary vitamin C intake is low. Similarly, the therapeutic effects of vitamin C should be studied, especially in patients with low plasma vitamin C levels. The current evidence is too weak to advocate prophylactic use of vitamin C to prevent pneumonia in the general population. Nevertheless, therapeutic vitamin C supplementation may be reasonable for pneumonia patients who have low vitamin C plasma levels because its cost and risks are low.


General Practice(GP)/Family Practice(FP):  The tangible evidence of the potential effectiveness of Vitamin C in patients with pneumonia gives new life to a much used, but perhaps scientifically underrated, substance

General Internal Medicine-Primary Care(US): The consistency of the benefits across the various trials, and the dose response is enlightening. It suggests we should seriously consider vitamin c supplementation in older adults diagnosed with community-acquired pneumonia.


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