Getting ill is one of the negative sides of life, and we all understand what it’s like to have a cold. They’re often unpleasant to experience, leaving us feeling drained, unwell and fed up. While considered a ‘mild’ infection, colds can disrupt not only our health but our mood, routine and schedule, often having to take time out to recover.
Although associated with the colder months of the year, viruses can strike at any time. With Spring starting to bloom, could Vitamin C be the perfect way to tackle the sniffles?
What is the Common Cold?
‘The Common Cold’ gains its name from the fact most people have experienced it, with each of us catching a cold virus 2 to 3 times on average every year1. Unfortunately, it’s easily spread by inhaling droplets of fluid containing the cold virus, usually after coming into contact with someone already infected or by touching an object which has the virus on it. A mild infection of the nose, upper airways, throat and sinuses, the common cold can manifest through a whole range of symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat and a cough. It can also lead to flu-like symptoms such as headaches, a fever and aching muscles, all of which can leave us feeling pretty unwell and sorry for ourselves2.
While most colds clear up on their own after a week or two, they’re not very pleasant to experience. They’re usually caused by the Rhinovirus, which contains tightly packed genetic material (RNA), which mutates and forms new strands of the virus. The rapidly changing viral structure of the cold means it’s possible to have several infections one after the other and reduced immunity to the virus with no cure currently available. Unfortunately, this means those suffering from a cold can only treat the symptoms with over-the-counter remedies and by managing the cold through rest, high fluid intake and healthy eating1,2.
Using Vitamin C to Combat Colds
The history of using Vitamin C for treating colds dates back to the 1970s, when Nobel Prize winner and renowned scientist Linus Pauling made claims about Vitamin C’s effects in his series of books. This included ‘Vitamin C and the Common Cold’, in which he alleged that taking Vitamin C prevented him from catching colds and could alleviate episodes of the virus. Soon this claim became common knowledge, with many taking it to be fact3. Often considered as an old wives’ tale, research into Vitamin C and the immune system has been conflicting at times. However, with much research ongoing, there is plenty left to investigate in this vital area.
Several studies over the years have supported claims about Vitamin C’s effect on the common cold virus, with several reviews suggesting those exposed to intense exercise or cold environments would benefit from Vitamin C supplementation. This suggests that Vitamin C could have a positive effect on the immune system when our bodies are at a higher vulnerability to infection4,5. One study found Vitamin C decreased the severity and duration of upper respiratory infections in male competitive swimmers, suggesting a possible link between the supplement and the effective treatment of infections6. With so much discussion over the health potentials of this beneficial vitamin, it’s no surprise that it’s such a popular supplement for so many people.
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is also known as Ascorbic acid and acts as a powerful antioxidant when taken daily to enhance our health. Traditionally used to combat Scurvy in sailors throughout history, its wide range of health benefits includes the production of collagen in the body, strengthening cells, tissues, skin, bones and blood vessels, contributing towards improved energy levels, the regulations of hormones, wound healing and absorption of iron in our diet7,8.
It’s naturally found in fruit and vegetables such as strawberries, citrus fruits, mangoes, bell peppers, guava, papayas, kiwi fruit and green leafy vegetables such as kale, sprouts and broccoli7,9. However, being water-soluble, it can’t be stored in the body like other fat-soluble vitamins, meaning that it needs consuming in larger doses to become effective. This can make it difficult to get the Vitamin C we need on a regular basis. A normal dietary intake of Vitamin C is 75-125mg per day whereas a supplement tablet will give you 1000mg7 – a significant difference!
With recent research on Vitamin C suggesting larger doses may lead to shorter common cold durations, consuming Vitamin C tablets could prove beneficial10.
Vitamin C’s Effectiveness – New Research Published
In what many are heralding a ‘breakthrough’, a new review from the University of Helsinki came out in March 2017, suggesting Vitamin C can significantly prevent or alleviate infections caused by bacteria and viruses, with the common cold being the most extensively studied in this area. The review concluded that the pooled effect of the dozens of studies looked at, showed a significant difference between Vitamin C and controlled groups given a placebo, finding greater effects when doses were higher. Analysis conducted on specific randomised trials into the effects of dose differences found a dose-response relationship between Vitamin C and duration of the common cold. Doses even extended to 6-8g and shortened colds by up to 17% to 19% with suggestions that even higher doses may result in the best treatment of colds10,11.
The implications of this research analysis means further studies into Vitamin C dosage and the common cold could lead us a significant step forward to finding an effective treatment for the common cold virus that plagues millions of lives every year. The anti-viral properties of Vitamin C are something that shouldn’t be ignored, and hopefully this recent review will result in progress being made in this area10,11.
Across the years, the role of Vitamin C and the common cold has been unclear at times. However, there’s no denying its wide range of health benefits and the positive effects it can have on the body. With this new research backing previous claims of the immune boosting properties of Vitamin C when it comes to the common cold, it may prove itself be the perfect supplement to combat the virus that affects us all.
Why not add a Spring in your step this season and tackle the sniffles head on.
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- Science Daily (2013) Infection with common cold virus: scientists reveal new insights Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131230101432.htm
- NHS Choices (2015) Common Cold Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cold-common/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- Harvard Health Publications Excerpts from Vitamin C and the Common Cold by Linus Pauling Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/excerpts_from_vitamin_c_and_the_common_cold_by_linus_pauling
- Douglas, R.M., Hemilä, H., Chalker, E. and Treacy, B. (2007) ‘Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 18(3)
- Hemilä, H. and Chalker, E. (2013) ‘Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1)
- Constantini, N.W., Dubnov-Raz, G., Eyal, B.B., Berry, E.M., Cohen, A.H. and Hemilä, H. (2011) ‘The effect of vitamin C on upper respiratory infections in adolescent swimmers: a randomized trial’, European Journal of Pediatrics, 170(1), pp. 59.63.
- NHS Choices (2017) Vitamin C Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-C.aspx
- Whitbread (2016) Top 10 Foods Highest in Vitamin C. Available at: https://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/vitamin-C.php
- Science Daily (2017) Larger doses of vitamin C may lead to a greater reduction in common cold duration Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170330115246.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fhealth_medicine%2Fdietary_supplements+%28Dietary+Supplements+News+--+ScienceDaily%29
- Hemilä, H. (2017) ‘Vitamin C and infections’, Nutrients, 9(4), pp.339. Available at: http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/9/4/339