Vitamin C For Colds: Does It Really Work

by Raksha Hegde last updated -

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How often have you been recommended vitamin C as a natural remedy to treat a cold by family members and friends? Vitamin C is often touted as the go-to vitamin to avoid a cold and to boost immunity. Orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, and vitamin C pills are the favored ways of getting the dosage for the prevention and treatment of colds. But is vitamin C for colds an effective treatment or is it just a handed-down home remedy? Let’s find out.

Vitamin C For Colds: Does It Really Work?

The vitamin C theory as a remedy for cold got popular in the 1970s. This was mainly due to a book written by Linus Carl Pauling, an American chemist and peace activist who won a Nobel Prize for chemistry and another for his opposition to weapons of mass destruction. Pauling wrote a book titled “Vitamin C and the common cold” which he suggested, after a statistical analysis of four double-blind studies, that particular dosages of vitamin C could prevent the onset of a cold as well as ease the cold if you already have it. An excerpt from the book, published on the Harvard Health website, reveals Pauling’s dosage suggestions.

  • For many people, Pauling suggested 1000-2000 mg per day as the optimum rate of ingestion.
  • Some people need only 250 mg of vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, per day to prevent the common cold.
  • He also felt that certain people may require large amounts like 5000 mg per day.

On page 86 of the book, Pauling also suggested carrying 500 mg tablets of ascorbic acid all the time. He felt that people should take one or two 500 mg tablets at the first sign of a cold developing including symptoms like scratchy throat, presence of mucus in the nose, or muscle pain.

However, these findings turned out to be controversial as several studies conducted after Pauling’s book showed that vitamin C did not prevent the onset of a cold. Also, the dosages recommended by him were very high – comparatively, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men.

A woman sneezing into a tissue paper with medicines and lemon on the side table

Does vitamin C help cure a cold? Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The most promising report in favor of vitamin C after Pauling’s vitamin C for cold hypotheses was published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2013. The lead researchers reviewed 29 studies involving 11,306 participants including marathon runners, skiers, soldiers, children, and adults. The findings of the research were:

  • Routine vitamin C supplementation does not reduce the incidence of colds.
  • However, vitamin C may be useful to boost immunity in people exposed to brief periods of severe physical exercise.
  • Vitamin C may help reduce the duration and severity of the common cold in adults and children.
  • In adults, the duration of colds lessened by an average of 8 percent.
  • In children, the duration of a cold reduced by an average of 14 percent.
  • In children, 1000 to 2000 mg/day vitamin C shortened colds by 18 percent.

FAQs on Vitamin C For Colds

Does vitamin C help colds go away?

As shown in studies, vitamin C helps reduce the duration and severity of colds. Research shows that vitamin C levels get depleted during infection and in turn, affect the immunity levels. So it is beneficial to supplement your diet with adequate vitamin C. Doctors say that taking five servings of fruits and vegetables per day will ensure the recommended vitamin C levels for the body.

Do vitamin C and zinc prevent colds?

According to a 2012 study published in The Journal of International Medical Research, researchers checked the effect of administering a combination of 1000 mg vitamin C along with 10 mg zinc in people who were suffering from a common cold. They found that the symptoms of a runny nose were eased and it was well tolerated by the participants. However, there is no evidence as yet to prove that the combination of vitamin C and zinc can prevent colds. 

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About the Author

Raksha Hegde is the content director at Organic Facts and helps oversee a team of brilliant, dynamic content writers. She completed her MS in Broadcast Journalism from Boston University, US. A former business news journalist and editor, Raksha followed her passion for wellness to become a certified Yoga teacher and a wellness festival curator. She believes that learning is a life-long process; she did a certificate e-course on “Introduction to Food and Health” in 2019 from Stanford University, US. 

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