Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the leading public health problems in the USA and worldwide. It is the number one cause of death and disability in children and adults between ages 1-44. Despite efforts to prevent TBIs, the incidence continues to rise. Secondary brain injury occurs in the first hours and days after the initial impact and is the most effective target for intervention. Inflammatory processes and oxidative stress play an important role in the pathomechanism of TBI and are exacerbated by impaired endogenous defense mechanisms, including depletion of antioxidants. As a reducing agent, free radical scavenger, and co-factor in numerous biosynthetic reactions, ascorbic acid (AA, vitamin C) is an essential nutrient that rapidly becomes depleted in states of critical illness. The administration of high-dose intravenous (IV) AA has demonstrated benefits in numerous preclinical models in the areas of trauma, critical care, wound healing, and hematology. A safe and inexpensive treatment, high-dose IV AA administration gained recent attention in studies demonstrating an associated mortality reduction in septic shock patients. High-quality data on the effects of high-dose IV AA on TBI are lacking. Historic data in a small number of patients demonstrate acute and profound AA deficiency in patients with central nervous system pathology, particularly TBI, and a strong correlation between low AA concentrations and poor outcomes. While replenishing deficient AA stores in TBI patients should improve the brain’s ability to tolerate oxidative stress, high-dose IV AA may prove an effective strategy to prevent or mitigate secondary brain injury due to its ability to impede lipid peroxidation, scavenge reactive oxygen species, suppress inflammatory mediators, stabilize the endothelium, and reduce brain edema. The existing preclinical data and limited clinical data suggest that high-dose IV AA may be effective in lowering oxidative stress and decreasing cerebral edema. Whether this translates into improved clinical outcomes will depend on identifying the ideal target patient population and possible treatment combinations, factors that need to be evaluated in future clinical studies. With its excellent safety profile and low cost, high-dose IV AA is ready to be evaluated in the early treatment of TBI patients to mitigate secondary brain injury and improve outcomes.

Keywords: Antioxidant; Ascorbic acid; Free radical scavenger; Oxidative stress; Secondary brain injury; Traumatic brain injury; Vitamin C.


Leichtle SW, Sarma AK, Strein M, Yajnik V, Rivet D, Sima A, Brophy GM. High-Dose Intravenous Ascorbic Acid: Ready for Prime Time in Traumatic Brain Injury? Neurocrit Care. 2020 Feb;32(1):333-339. doi: 10.1007/s12028-019-00829-x. PMID: 31440996.