If you’ve ever had a cold, you’ve probably heard somebody tell you to load up on Vitamin C to make your sickness vanish like magic. Some even say that Vitamin C supplements can prevent the common cold. This has led to the Vitamin C market reaching a value of $1.34 billion, and it’s growing. And, if the claims are true that regular Vitamin C supplements can prevent the common cold — it would be massive. Imagine never getting another cold? The question is whether Vitamin C is really as effective as people say, and if not, is there any truth to the matter? The answer is more interesting than you’d expect!
Does It Work for Cold Prevention?
There are a number of products on the market that promise to use Vitamin C to prevent colds or straight up cure it. The claim that Vitamin C can help with your cold has spread as commonly as the illness itself! It’s even been studied for over 65 years to find just how valuable Vitamin C is as a tool against the common cold. One possible issue is with supplementation. If the study doesn’t have people take enough Vitamin C or take too much Vitamin C, the results would be inaccurate. Luckily, each study looked at a different amount of supplementation, giving a good spread of dosages. Now, it’s more difficult to argue that the correct supplementation wasn’t studied, making the findings of the studies more likely to be accurate. So, with this depth of research into Vitamin C and the common cold, have the claims been backed up by science? Will Vitamin C prevent the common cold?
No. Simply put, Vitamin C supplements will not prevent the common cold.
In fact, we’ve rarely seen science so consistent on a finding. Taking Vitamin C supplements regularly doesn’t have an effect on the number of cases of the common cold infections and has no substantial benefit in treating them either. These findings were consistent even when taken in large doses. Other studies that appear to show benefits have had a great deal of variance, which hasn’t allowed any true clinical significance to be observed. Does this mean that there’s no benefit from Vitamin C? Where did this claim even come from?
How Vitamin C Can Help
The answer to both questions is actually quite straightforward. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for your body that has many health benefits. It’s an antioxidant and can lower your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, improve iron deficiency, and promote healthy brain aging. Your body doesn’t create it naturally, so you have to supplement it through your diet. Focusing specifically on the origins of the Vitamin C: Common Cold Cure myth, it likely comes from how it can help promote a healthy immune system. Studies have shown that Vitamin C can aid in the creation of white blood cells that can help fight infections, and that same study also concluded that it helped those cells function more effectively.
Vitamin C was shown to have no effect if you only start taking supplements when you catch the cold.
This bolstering of your immune system can have positive effects on your body if you’re infected with a cold. Some of the studies that showed no preventive benefits of Vitamin C still found that supplementation can weaken the severity of the cold, meaning fewer or less intense symptoms. Regular supplementation has also been found to slightly shorten the duration of a cold, though only if you’ve been taking them consistently. Vitamin C was shown to have no effect if you only start taking supplements when you catch the cold. How slight is this shortened duration? One study estimated that you may experience an eight percent quicker recovery, therefore recovering 13 hours faster for the average seven-day cold.
The Bottom Line
Does this mean that Vitamin C is worthless? Absolutely not. As we mentioned, there are plenty of reasons why you’ll want to get enough Vitamin C in your diet. The evidence from those studies shows that taking it regularly can have a positive effect on your immune system. If you’re concerned about your immune system being weak, talk to your doctor about whether a Vitamin C supplement would be right for you. After all, while it may not prevent the common cold, Vitamin C can help the basic functions of your immune system work properly.
After speaking to your doctor, they may suggest Vitamin C supplements for any of the health benefits we mentioned, but they’ll come with strict dosages.
That said, if you’re looking to add more Vitamin C into your life, there are a few things worth keeping in mind. First, as we noted in our article on dietary supplements, the best way to get your nutrients is through having a healthy, well-balanced diet. It’s the safest way to get the nutrients your body needs. After speaking to your doctor, they may suggest Vitamin C supplements for any of the health benefits we mentioned, but they’ll come with strict dosages (generally 90 mg and 75 mg per day for adult men and women respectively). Extremely high doses of Vitamin C have been linked with kidney stones, nausea, and diarrhea. But if you’re just taking a small amount each day, you shouldn’t experience any of the negative side effects.
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So, while taking Vitamin C may not prevent or cure the common cold, there are plenty of reasons to make sure you’re getting it into your system. Just make sure that you’re doing it through a healthy, well-balanced diet or through supplements under your doctor’s direction.
Word of advice: You can also stop buying those emergency Vitamin C pills at the grocery store. Science is pretty firmly leaning against them having any effect on your cold unless you’re taking them regularly, and even then, it’s minor at best.