A doctor from the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, believes he has found a potential cure for sepsis - a common and often fatal disease - in the unlikeliest place: the ordinary vitamin C.

Dr. Paul Marik says he already treated roughly 150 patients, of which only one succumbed to sepsis. His remedy includes an infusion of vitamin C, along with low doses of hydrocortisone and thiamine (or vitamin B1).

After administering his experimental treatment to 47 of his patients, Marik recorded the results in a paper, featured in the online edition of the journal Chest.

According to his study, only four of those patients died in the hospital - because of underlying diseases, not sepsis - as opposed to 19, from an equally numbered group of patients treated before he started using the new remedy.

What Is Sepsis?

Sepsis is an autoimmune disease caused by an overwhelming immune response to infection, and arises when chemicals released by the immune system to fight the infection trigger widespread inflammation throughout the body.

This reaction produces blood clots and ruptured blood vessels, leading to impaired blood flow and poor circulation of nutrients and oxygen to the major organs. In severe cases, sepsis can cause organ failure and septic shock.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sepsis is typically caused by Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus, and E.coli infections.

Common symptoms of sepsis resemble other conditions, making it difficult to diagnose in its initial stages, and include fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion, and disorientation.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences reports this severe condition affects more than a million Americans annually, claiming the lives of 28 to 50 percent of them.

The Secret Of Vitamin C

What makes vitamin C so potent in treating inflammation is the antioxidant's capacity to influence the immune response when it is administered intravenously, as opposed to oral tablets.

Marik describes his first patient case treated with the vitamin C infusion two years ago as extremely severe and in desperate need of a creative approach. The patient, a 48-year-old woman, was on the brink of death, suffering from multiple organ failure.

Inspired by a previous study from researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, which reported a moderate success of intravenous vitamin C as therapy for sepsis, Marik decided to adapt the treatment.

He came up with his own version by adding a mixture of thiamine and corticosteroids - linked in prior research to the treatment of sepsis and septic shock.

His remedy managed to save his patient's life and therefore Marik continued to successfully administer it in the following sepsis cases he encountered.

New Cure Met With Skepticism

The medical community received Marik's study with cautious optimism, since his research didn't follow the standard protocol for assessing potential new treatments. The required procedure involves a randomized double-blind placebo control study, which is yet to be undertaken.

Hundreds of other attempts to find an effective treatment for sepsis have been met with failure in follow-up research.

Nevertheless, Dr. Craig Coopersmith, from Emory University School of Medicine, believes these results could mean a very important breakthrough pending corroboration, especially considering the high mortality rate associated with sepsis.

"If it turns out in further studies that this is true, and we can validate it, then this will be an unbelievably huge deal," he says.

Photo: John Campbell | Flickr

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