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updated: 2/20/2012 6:42 AM

Vitamin C may help reduce fatigue

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One of the most common complaints I and other physicians hear from patients is that they are tired and are looking for answers. Vitamin C may help. Although anecdotal data suggests that vitamin C may reduce fatigue, the medical research is mixed. However, according to one well-designed medical study from Korea, intravenous vitamin C significantly reduced work-associated fatigue in healthy employees.

Today people are working harder, longer and under more pressure than ever before. Employees and the self-employed are expected to be more efficient, take less time off and many work long hours after the office closes. The stress of work has real metabolic effects on the body and more people are expressing a profound level of fatigue and exhaustion. All organs are affected by chronic stress, especially the adrenal glands. Interestingly, vitamin C is concentrated in the adrenal glands.

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By definition, vitamin C is not a vitamin, but an essential nutrient. Humans, monkeys and guinea pigs do not make vitamin C and must have it in their diets. Vitamin C has several roles in the body: It can protect the body from the effects of acute and chronic stress, it is a strong antioxidant, a cofactor in numerous metabolic reactions including collagen synthesis and enhancing the wound-healing process.

The recommended dose of vitamin C is about 60 to 70 mg. This level of vitamin C prevents scurvy, the disease of vitamin C deficiency. Some research indicates that much higher doses of vitamin C positively impacts the course of other illnesses and medical conditions. In addition, how vitamin C is administered dramatically impacts the blood level of vitamin C and ultimately, the overall benefit. Blood levels of vitamin C, when taken intravenously, are much higher than if taken orally.

The Korean study, published in the Nutrition Journal, evaluated the benefit of intravenous vitamin C on fatigue and markers of biological stress. It was a double-blind, randomized trial involving 141 healthy office workers. The participants were divided into two groups. One group received a single dose of 10 grams of vitamin C (high dose), intravenously and the second group was given a saline solution intravenously. The researchers measured fatigue, levels of oxidative stress and plasma vitamin C levels before the infusion and at two hours and one day after the infusion.

The results were noteworthy. Those who received the vitamin C noticed significantly more energy as early as two hours after the vitamin C infusion. This increased energy continued for at least 24 hours. The vitamin C group also had higher serum levels of vitamin C and fewer markers of oxidative stress. They concluded "intravenous vitamin C may be a safe and effective treatment ."

There is substantial anecdotal evidence that intravenous vitamin C can help with many types of fatigue including chemotherapy, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. However, intravenous vitamin C should only be administered by a medical physician familiar with the procedure.

• Patrick B. Massey, M.D., Ph.D is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network. His website is www.alt-med.org.

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