I want to thank our friend ‘OLD BOB’ for alerting me to Patrick Holford’s comment on a recent trial of vitamin C for COVID-19. Here are three short quotes from Holford:
… Overall, 5 out 26 people (19%) died in the vitamin C group while 10 out of 28 (36%) receiving the placebo died. That means that vitamin C almost halved the number of deaths. Those on vitamin C were 60% more likely to survive.
… Of those most critically ill, 4 people (18%) in the vitamin C group died, compared to 10 (50%) in the placebo group. That’s two-thirds less deaths. Statistically this meant that of those most critically ill who were given vitamin C, they were 80% less likely to die…
… now there is another proven treatment – vitamin C…
And here is the abstract of the actual trial Holford refers to:
Background: No specific medication has been proven effective for the treatment of patients with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Here, we tested whether high-dose vitamin C infusion was effective for severe COVID-19.
Methods: This randomized, controlled, clinical trial was performed at 3 hospitals in Hubei, China. Patients with confirmed severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection in the ICU were randomly assigned in as 1:1 ratio to either the high-dose intravenous vitamin C (HDIVC) or the placebo. HDIVC group received 12 g of vitamin C/50 ml every 12 hours for 7 days at a rate of 12 ml/hour, and the placebo group received bacteriostatic water for injection in the same way. The primary outcome was invasive mechanical ventilation-free days in 28 days(IMVFD28). Secondary outcomes were 28-day mortality, organ failure, and inflammation progression.
Results: Only fifty-six critical COVID-19 patients were ultimately recruited due to the early control of the outbreak. There was no difference in IMVFD28 between two groups. During the 7-day treatment period, patients in the HDIVC group had a steady rise in the PaO2/FiO2 (day 7: 229 vs. 151 mmHg, 95% CI 33 to 122, P=0.01). Patients with SOFA scores ≥3 in the HDIVC group exhibited a trend of reduction in 28-day mortality (P=0.06) in univariate survival analysis. IL-6 in the HDIVC) group was lower than that in the placebo group (19.42 vs. 158.00; 95% CI -301.72 to -29.79; P=0.04) on day 7.
Conclusion: This pilot trial showed that HDIVC might show a potential signal of benefit for critically ill patients with COVID-19, improving oxygenation even though it failed to improve IMVFD28.
The following points are, I think, worth mentioning:
- This was, according to its authors, a PILOT study.
- It was far too small (n=56) to provide reliable results on mortality.
- The trial authors know that and interpret their findings with sufficient caution.
- The primary endpoint, the IMVFD28, showed NO significant difference between the groups.
- The secondary endpoint: HDIVC infusion exhibited a non-significant trend of reduction in 28-day mortality (P=0.06).
- In more severe patients (SOFA score ≥3), univariate survival analysis and Cox regression showed a similar results (P=0.07, HR, 0.32 [95% CI 0.10-1.06]).
And what does all of this mean? It means that, in this pilot study, vitamin C failed to produce a significant result. Only in a subgroup analysis related to a secondary endpoint was there a slight advantage of vitamin C. This effect is, of course, interesting and needs further investigation (I am sure that is happening as we speak). It could have some clinical significance but, just as likely, it could just be due to chance. There is not way of knowing which is which.
In other words, to hype the findings and to even make statements such as ‘now there is another proven treatment, vitamin C’ is not just exaggerated, it is irresponsible.
This begs the question: why does Mr Holford do it? In case you don’t already know about this man, go on the Internet, and you will quickly find possible answers. Here is an excerpt from his Wiki page which might give you a clue:
Patrick Holford is a British author and entrepreneur who endorses a range of controversial vitamin tablets. As an advocate of alternative nutrition and diet methods, he appears regularly on television and radio in the UK and abroad. He has 36 books in print in 29 languages. His business career promotes a wide variety of alternative medical approaches such as orthomolecular medicine, many of which are considered pseudoscientific by mainstream science and medicine.
Holford’s claims about HIV and autism are not in line with modern medical thought, and have been criticised for putting people in danger and damaging public health.
In 2006 Holford was discovered to be using his PR advisor to delete critical content from his Wikipedia page…
Holford has been the subject of criticism for his promotion of medically dubious techniques and products including hair analysis, his support of the now struck off doctor Andrew Wakefield, and advocating the use of “non-drug alternatives for mental health” for which he has been given an award by the Church of Scientology-backed Citizens Commission on Human Rights.
SAY NO MORE!