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Does Vitamin C Help Cure The Common Cold?

Last updated May 9, 2019

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

The common cold is an upper respiratory tract disease caused by an infectious virus and usually affects the nose. It is characterized by sneezing and a runny nose.

The common cold is an upper respiratory tract disease caused by an infectious virus and usually affects the nose. It is characterized by sneezing and a runny nose. The symptoms usually last for a week. Vitamin C is an essential water-soluble nutrient that is not created inside our body, but has to be taken through external food sources. Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is said to help cure the common cold. The Nobel Prize Winner Linus Pauling popularised the idea of taking megadoses of vitamin C daily to prevent cold and other diseases, thereby giving rise to many research studies on vitamin C.

Way back in 1979, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, stated there was a significant reduction in common cold symptoms after consumption of natural and synthetic orange juice that contain equal amounts of vitamin C. The results obtained in this study by the consumption of natural and synthetic orange juice were similar to those obtained by taking a mega dose of vitamin C, but there was no justification for taking excess supplements. Many studies have supported the previous findings and one such was published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2011. This study concluded that there was almost a 20% reduction in the symptoms of moderate to severe common cold in individuals who consumed vitamin C supplements in an encapsulated form, made from powdered fruit and vegetable juices. 

Vitamin C might have a positive effect in the prevention of common cold but there are research studies that oppose this popular belief. A review article published online in 2007 suggested that vitamin C could be helpful in reducing common cold symptoms in people exposed to cold environments as well as those who engage in physical exercises, however fails to reduce symptoms of common cold in the normal population.

Dr Marvin Lipman, an endocrinologist and Chief Medical Advisor for Consumer Reports says that “There have been at least twenty well-controlled studies on the use of megadoses of vitamin C in the prevention of colds, the treating the duration of colds, and in treatment of the severity of colds, and in none of those instances has there been any, really good evidence that vitamin C in mega doses does anything.” In short, vitamin C can reduce the severity of a cold, but does not cure the condition.

Therefore, it can be concluded that large doses of vitamin C can help in reducing the severity and duration of common cold symptoms, though it does not protect against the infection. Vitamin C also affects different individuals differently. Vitamin C must be obtained from a balanced diet and fruits such as oranges, lemon, strawberries, green leafy vegetables, and tomatoes, are good sources of vitamin C. These foods must form a regular part of one’s diet. Vitamin C does not prevent the common cold; it may only reduce the duration of a cold. Vitamin C is more effective and shows a considerable reduction of symptoms in people engaging in rigorous physical activity.

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Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: May 9, 2019
Last updated: May 9, 2019