Vitamin C for Colds: Does it Really Work?
The question is whether or not vitamin c actually works against colds. There are many studies which show that vitamin c does indeed have some effect on preventing colds. However, there are other factors such as stress and age which play a role in causing the symptoms of a cold.
In fact, vitamin C may even make them worse!
It’s true that the body needs certain things to fight off infection. For example, your immune system relies on vitamins A and D to work properly. These two nutrients are found naturally in foods like spinach and broccoli.
Other foods high in these vitamins include orange juice, milk, eggs, fish oil supplements (omega 3), nuts and seeds (seeds contain omega 6 fatty acids) and green tea extract.
However, too much of any one nutrient can cause problems. Too much vitamin A causes cataracts and rickets while too much vitamin D causes osteomalacia (softening of bones). Both conditions can lead to a shortened lifespan.
So what happens if you don’t get enough of either?
You develop health issues such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
So what about the idea that taking extra amounts of these vitamins will protect us from getting colds?
It’s true that we can stave off these illnesses by eating right. But there are also other ways to get these nutrients without swallowing (or chewing) vitamins. For example, vitamin D is found in small amounts in a few foods but the best source is sunshine. If you live in a northern climate, it’s nearly impossible to get enough through your diet. That leaves supplements or getting direct sunlight (10-15 minutes 3 times a week should do it).
But what about a vitamin C supplement? It can’t hurt right?
Well, you might be surprised to learn that it can. Vitamin C has a short lifespan in the body so your body tries to get rid of it quickly. When you take in more than you need, your body transforms it into oxalate which can lead to kidney stones.
So does vitamin C help or hurt when you have a cold?
The jury is still out on that one and studies have been somewhat inconclusive. Some studies show that taking large does of vitamin C when you first feel a cold symptom reduces the length of time you’re sick by about 8%. But taking it daily year-round doesn’t seem to have much of an effect.
However, other studies show that taking 100-1000mg of vitamin C at the onset of a cold can reduce symptoms by nearly 50%. But here’s the thing: if you start taking it BEFORE you get sick you’re somehow building up a tolerance to it. In other words, when you DO get sick, it won’t work as well at preventing or reducing the symptoms.
It’s possible that vitamin C can reduce the likelihood of getting sick IF you take it daily year-round. The amount that shows benefit, however, is inordinately large (like 8-12 grams daily). Most likely this won’t cause any harm but it’s tough to chug that much OJ every day.
So should you take vitamin C supplements?
Well, it probably won’t hurt you (unless you’re allergic to it). And yes, you could get some short-term benefits from taking them when you feel that cold coming on. But don’t expect miracles. If a cold is coming on strong, it’s coming on strong. The vitamins aren’t going to stop it.
If you want to feel better quicker, eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables. If you want to prevent getting sick in the first place, eat a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. And get some exercise too!
It makes everything work better.
Balderdash! Your mother was no doubt right when she told you to always wash your hands before eating. Germs are all around us and if you’re going to live in this world you need to accept that you’re going to be exposed to them on a regular basis.
Fortunately our bodies have a natural defense system to keep these intruders at bay. It’s called the immune system.
The immune system has several lines of defense. The first line is made up of physical and chemical barriers. This would include your skin and your stomach acid, which most germs can’t survive in.
Most of the time these are enough to ward off infection but things can and do get through sometimes.
The second line of defense is what actually fights off any invaders. There are two types of white blood cells (leukocytes), macro and micro. The macro are your heavier soldiers so to speak.
These are the ones that contain more muscle so to speak and they fight off bacteria and viruses on a large scale.
The micro leukocytes are smaller but no less important. Their job is to take out the wounded, so to speak, and keep fighting until the infection is gone. Without these two classes the immune system would be severely overmatched by any serious infection.
The final line of defense is your immune system’s general intelligence. It has a basic understanding of what’s you and what isn’t you. If the body believes the invader to be foreign, the three lines of defense work in tandem to eliminate the threat.
It’s important to note that it isn’t always a clear-cut decision on what is you and what isn’t. Certain things like metals, plastic and other materials won’t be recognized as foreign. Ditto for animal white blood cells (which is why you can give blood).
There are, however, exceptions. For example, some bacteria are actually so tiny that they can slip through the skin and evade the natural barrier defenses. The immune system catches the majority of these.
There are many ways to tamper with this system. Tampering with any one part of it can cause problems in some way.
Vitamin supplements actually do a lot more than just supplementing vitamins. Many can be absorbed through the skin and actually have an effect on the body. As such, if you’re taking something for one thing and it has side effects, those side effects will be your general experience with that item.
For example, large doses of vitamin C sometimes act as a blood thinner. If you’re getting the same effect by spraying it on your body then you can see how it might cause other things.
Sources & references used in this article:
Vitamin C and the common cold. by GH Beaton, S Whalen – Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1971 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Vitamin C, the placebo effect, and the common cold: a case study of how preconceptions influence the analysis of results by E Regnier – Review of Allergy, 1968
Vitamin C supplementation and common cold symptoms: problems with inaccurate reviews by H Hemilä – Journal of clinical epidemiology, 1996 – Elsevier