Research conducted at the University of Western Ontario and Lawson Health Research Institute has uncovered a beneficial role for vitamin C in sepsis, an immune system reaction to bacterial infection that results in the formation of blood clots, impaired blood flow and potential organ failure. The condition occurs mainly in infants, individuals with impaired immune systems, and older men and women. The current study's findings were reported in the November, 2010 issue of the journal Intensive Care Medicine.
Severe sepsis carries a mortality rate of 40 percent, according to University of Western Ontario Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor Karel Tyml. Capillaries that have been blocked by blood clots, caused by oxidative stress and activation of the blood clotting pathway, are the cause of multiple organ failure and death in septic patients. "There are many facets to sepsis, but the one we have focused on for the past 10 years is the plugging of capillaries," he noted. Dr Tyml's laboratory was the first to discover this phenomenon via the use of intravital microscopy.
In experiments with three strains of mice, Dr Tyml's team demonstrated that vitamin C administered intravenously early in the development of sepsis prevents capillary blockage as well as reverses the condition by restoring blood flow if administered later. Reversal of blood flow blockage by vitamin C appeared to be dependent upon the production of nitric oxide, which dislodges platelets from the capillary wall.
"Our research in mice with sepsis has found that early as well as delayed injections of vitamin C improves chance of survival significantly," Dr Tyml remarked. "Furthermore, the beneficial effect of a single bolus injection of vitamin C is long lasting and prevents capillary plugging for up to 24 hours post-injection."
"Vitamin C is cheap and safe," he added. "Previous studies have shown that it can be injected intravenously into patients with no side effects. It has the potential to significantly improve the outcome of sepsis patients world-wide. This could be especially beneficial in developing countries where sepsis is more common and expensive treatments are not affordable."
Bacterial infections can be caused by a wide range of bacteria, resulting in mild to life-threatening illnesses (such as bacterial meningitis) that require immediate intervention. In the United States, bacterial infections are a leading cause of death in children and the elderly (Howard BJ et al 1994). Hospitalized patients and those with chronic diseases are at especially high risk of bacterial infection (Murray et al 1998). Common bacterial infections include pneumonia, ear infections, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and skin disorders.
The human body requires a balanced diet that provides nutrients, minerals, and vitamins for a functional and effective immune response (Chandra RK 2004). Immune function is impacted by factors including hormonal status, age, and nutritional status (Hedlund J 1995). Malnutrition results in a depressed immune system that raises the risk of infection.
The nutrients vitamin A, beta-carotene, folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, riboflavin, iron, copper, zinc, and selenium have both antioxidant activity and immunomodulating functions that affect the course and outcome of bacterial infections (Bhaskaram P 2001; Meydani SN et al 2001; Murray et al 1997). In general, people taking multivitamin and multimineral supplements report significantly fewer infectious illnesses. In one small study, efficacy was highest in individuals with type 2 diabetes (Barringer TA et al 2003).
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