The ‘C’ in Curing the Common Cold

Australian-Skin-Institute-Vitamin-C-resizedEvery time I found myself “under the weather” on account of the pesky and all too common cold, both my parents would ask the exact same question: “did you take some Vitamin C?” You see, when they posed this question, they weren’t just asking if I took a singular tablet of the round chalk known as L-ascorbic acid, but in actuality were telling me: “you need to take two 500mg tablets of Vitamin C throughout the day and you need to start immediately.” So I did. Why shouldn’t I? The two people who I trust more than anyone and who have lived on this Earth far longer than I are saying this orange juice you can chew is going to help me feel better in a smaller amount of time. What do I have to lose?  I actually continue to take Vitamin C to this day when myself or someone around me has a cold because, as far as I’m concerned, it helps. At least, I thought it did. However, now I’m living on my own with a roommate and just as she found herself “under the weather,” I found myself reaching for the canister of acid in the dose of 500mg. Except this time, I stopped to ask myself: does Vitamin C really work or do I just think it works because I’ve been taught that it does?

As it turns out, many people have sought answers to this question. In fact, there have been over sixty years of research and a plethora of double-blinded placebo controlled studies on whether or not mega-doses of Vitamin C (2,000+mg) make the duration of the common cold shorter, prevents colds from happening, and helps alleviate or lessen the severity of symptoms.  According to the National Institutes of Health, Vitamin C is a “water-soluble nutrient” that helps protect cells from the damage free radicals inflict. It also has to be present in order for collagen to be made and iron absorption to take place. On top of that, Vitamin C does, in fact, help the proper functioning of the immune system as well as assists in protecting the body from disease. With that being said, the answer to the question posed should be easy. Vitamin C helps prevent, get rid of, and lessen the severity of the symptoms of the common cold, right? Wrong.

It was Linus Pauling who first conducted a double-blind placebo study  and published a book entitled “Vitamin C and the Common Cold” in 1970. He stated that there was a positive correlation between Vitamin C and the common cold in the sense that it decreases how often the common cold occurs as well as the severity of it.

Every study that has ever succeeded Pauling’s has had differing results. For example, studies by the Cochrane CollaborationCochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group, and the British Journal of Nutrition found that taking Vitamin C did not prevent colds from happening, but it did shorten the length one had a cold by a day or two as well as lessened the severity of symptoms by a significant amount. This may be because of the antioxidant property of Vitamin C. When a person experiences an infection, phagocytic leukocytes (white blood cells that engulf dangerous and foreign substances) produce oxidants. When Vitamin C reacts to these oxidants, it could possibly “decrease inflammatory effects caused by them.”

Makes sense, right?

Well, on the other hand, studies like the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition’s concluded the exact opposite by stating that Vitamin C reduces the frequency of the common cold but has no effect on its duration or frequency. However, they relied entirely on the reactions of their patients. Therefore, if I had to make a hypothesis as to why this situation occurred, I would infer that it was the result of a confounding variable. For example, this study took place in one specific region in Japan that contains the “highest morality of gastric cancer” which could have something to do with the why the study ensued as it did.

For now, I just want to sum up what all of this means, and the shortest way to do that is by saying this: the studies and corresponding results between Vitamin C and its ability to prevent, shorten, and lessen symptom severity of the common cold are completely and utterly inconclusive. So until somebody tries a different dosage, pool of patients, or study entirely and vitamin c tabletsmakes a breakthrough, we’ll never know if Vitamin C truly helps or not. It’s easy to say there may be a small connection between Vitamin C and the common cold but until we know for sure the studies observed might as well be chance. So what does that mean for victims of the common cold like you and I? Well, that’s entirely up to you. I know I am going to continue taking my Vitamin C tablets and drinking my orange juice whenever need be. However, if you’re a skeptic–unlike me–go ahead and try for yourself. You just might be one of the lucky ones that feels better.

4 thoughts on “The ‘C’ in Curing the Common Cold

  1. Maddie Panzeri

    Well it seems that the scientists will never figure out if vitamin C helps a cold or not. As the post states, different studies have opposite conclusions. I would agree that this could be due to the variables, such as the fact that there are so many different types of cold viruses. If you could isolate the same cold virus and then see if vitamin C alleviated the cold, that might be more conclusive. This post raises many questions about scientific studies and consumer habits and the marketing of products that suggest they help relieve a cold, although we all know there is no cure for the common cold.

  2. Stephanie Michelle Friedman

    I found this topic to be really interesting because I am always the one to go buy Emergen-C when I start feeling in the slightest way sick. Every winter I get sick in someway or another but I try to take vitamins and have vitamin c as much as I can to try and boost my immune system and avoid it. With the past week being sorority recruitment I have been stressed, tired, and in very close proximity with a lot of girls so I have been stocking up on vitamin C because on day two of rush I already felt sick. There should be a test in the dead of the winter months and give some kids vitamin c and others not and see if there is a correlation. This is a really interesting topic.

  3. Kassidy Schupp

    I was very interested in reading this because I’m starting to get a cold now! I take vitamin c pills every day and have been for about a year. Last year, I didn’t get sick once. I live in New York so it was common for me to get sick at least once during the cold winter, but last year I didn’t. I was fully convinced that it was because I had been taking the vitamin c. But now, just two weeks into being here at Penn State I am getting sick even though I am still taking the vitamin c. I found this really interesting to read and am curious to know the answer!

  4. Meghan Kelly Shiels

    I found this to be incredibly interesting because I had always thought that Vitamin C prevented colds. Like you, I had always been taught that. I wonder what the other benefits of Vitamin C? Without some clearly tested benefit of taking it, it seems like an industry has been made under false pretenses.

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