The truth about vitamin C and cold relief
Have you ever chugged orange juice or made a supplemental vitamin C drink mix in hopes it would cure your cold? Turns out, that might not actually work.
“Although research does show that taking vitamin C can make your cold symptoms milder, it won’t protect most people from getting a cold,” explains Dr. Jennifer George, a family medicine physician at Aurora Health Care. “Taking vitamin C shortens the course of the cold by about 10%. Meaning that if a cold takes 10 days to recover, someone taking vitamin C would recover in about nine days.”
Vitamin C still plays a vital role in your body, so don’t skip your daily OJ. “Vitamin C is needed to form blood vessels, cartilage, muscle tissue and collagen in the bones,” she adds. “It is also needed for the healing process and helps the body absorb and store iron.”
It also may reduce the risk of some types of cancer, such as breast, colon and lung cancer, as well as reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, according to Dr. George.
“However, the benefit appears when eating foods rich in vitamin C rather than taking a supplement,” she emphasizes.
Good sources of vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits
- Brussels sprouts
While vitamin C might aid your recovery, there isn’t a cure for the common cold, according to Dr. George. “The common cold is a viral illness,” she says. “There are over 200 viruses that can cause symptoms. The most common one is rhinovirus.”
Typical symptoms of rhinovirus include:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Post-nasal drainage
- Sore throat
To aid your body’s recovery process, she recommends:
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Gargling with warm salt water
- Using nasal saline spray or drops to help with nasal congestion
- Taking over-the-counter cough and cold medications to manage symptoms
“Cough and cold medications should not be given to small children,” Dr. George advises. “Also, children and teens should not be given aspirin. Finally, remember that many cold medications contain Tylenol or ibuprofen. If someone is taking cold medication, they need to read labels if they are planning on taking pain relievers between doses so that they don’t overdose.”
She adds that antibiotics will not cure a cold as they are used to treat bacterial infections — colds are viral infections.
To prevent catching a cold, Dr. George suggests that you:
- Wash your hands carefully
- Avoid touching your face, eyes or mouth
- Frequently disinfect high touch surfaces such as phones, computer keyboards and doorknobs
- Sneeze and cough into a tissue or the bend of your elbow
- Avoid close contact (kissing, hugging, shaking hands, sharing utensils, etc.) with another person if either of you feel sick
- Stay home if you are sick to prevent spreading your cold to those around you
While vitamin C isn’t an instant cure or the ultimate protection against the common cold, following these recommendations can improve your overall health during this cold and flu season.