Vitamin C and the Common Cold

By: Remy Hataishi

vitamin c
One of the most prevalent illnesses during the winter season is the common cold. Many people who develop the common cold tend to turn to OTC medications and supplements, especially those that contain vitamin C due to its antioxidant properties. However despite popular belief, vitamin C may not be an effective treatment for reducing the incidence or severity of the common cold.

Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C has been thought of as a complementary treatment for the common cold. Products such as Emergen-C and Airborne contain about 1,000 mg of vitamin C, which is 1,667% of the recommended daily value for adults. According to the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, the daily recommendation for adults aged 18 years and older is between 75 mg-90 mg, with the max at 2,000 mg. Consuming more than 2,000 mg of vitamin C per day can increase one’s chances of developing diarrhea, nausea and stomach cramps.

According to information in an article, bias towards believing consumption of Emergen-C or Airborne as a good cure for the common cold might be attributed to the fact that Airborne used to claim that their products could “ward off colds”. However, the company did not have any evidence to back up these claims. Airborne agreed to pay about $23 million dollars in a lawsuit over false claims that their product formula could “ward off colds”. Now, Airborne products just simply state that their products can “boost your immune system”.

A study published in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) Medicine Journal has shown that vitamin C in doses of 200 mg per day could possibly reduce the duration of the common cold by 8%-14% but not the severity or incidence. Vitamin C may be effective for reducing the incidence of the common cold in special populations who are under physical stress such as: skiers, marathon runners and soldiers. Despite the lack of evidence supporting vitamin C as a powerful supplement in the treatment of the common cold, it still plays an essential role in our body’s everyday functions.

Overall, much more research needs to be done to support or refute the claim that increased vitamin C intake will prevent or act as a good complementary treatment for the common cold. Until more information is available, rather than spending money on products with very high doses of vitamin C, such as Emergen-C or Airborne, consider other complementary treatments for the common cold such as: getting an adequate amount of rest, staying hydrated, eating foods that naturally contain vitamin C (for example: citrus fruits, strawberries, dark leafy greens) and exercising proper hand hygiene. Refer to the articles and links below for more information on vitamin C as a complementary treatment for the common cold.

Douglas, R. M., & Hemilä, H. (2005). Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. PLoS medicine, 2(6), e168.


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