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FOOD & NUTRITION BLOG
Just when you think you’re fine and dandy and ready to take on the new school semester, guess what? You’re hit with the annual influenza, AKA the winter cold. Now instead of being at the top of your game, you’re sick in bed or suffering through class with a headache, sore throat, a fuzzy mind, and a mountain of snot-filled, virus-y, tissues that piles up and spills over to your classmates side of the table (don’t pretend you don’t see them subtly inching away from you or using some scrap piece of paper to swat your tissues back to your side). Personally, I wouldn’t blame them. They’re just trying to not get sick in the best possible way when they find out they’re sitting next to a contagious classmate.
Getting a cold is a pretty common thing. If you’re sick right now with the cold, it probably isn’t your first encounter with this nasty virus nor will it be your last (most likely).
Now one thing that you’ve probably heard while at the onset of a cold or during your cold episode is someone, either your mom, friend, or even a stranger, telling you to take vitamin C. But where did this concept even come from?
Jumping back in time to the 1930s, vitamin C has been proposed for treating respiratory infections since its isolation. It became particularly popular in the 1970s when Nobel laureate Linus Pauling concluded from earlier placebo-controlled trials that vitamin C would prevent and alleviate the common cold.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably tried to eat more vitamin C (because any kind of treatment is better than being sick and gross and you’ve got nothing to lose). So you take supplements or you drink orange juice religiously every morning...etc etc. But, the real question is, can it really cure your cold?
The short answer is...probably not.
Now, before you start flipping tables or cursing that you spent so much time and effort to eat all that vitamin C, there’s a caveat to this answer. Ahh, have I got your attention back now?
You see, research shows that vitamin C, although there is no concrete evidence that says it can cure the common cold, can reduce the length of your cold symptoms by 1 to 1 ½ days according to Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2).
In addition, a 2013 systematic review (in simple terms, a review that compiles and summarizes information from numerous studies) done in Helsinki, Finland by the Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group came to a similar conclusion that although vitamin C could not prevent or cure the common cold, it did have a “modest but consistent effect in reducing the duration of common cold symptoms” (1). The review also found that those who participated in periods of extreme physical activity (eg. marathon runners and skiers) and took vitamin C supplementation decreased their risk of getting a cold by ½! (1). That’s some good stuff right there.
All in all, eating vitamin C while you have a cold is an inexpensive and safe method (you can’t overdose since extra vit C will just get flushed out of your system anyway!) to decrease the duration of your cold symptoms. Combined with plenty of rest, proper hydration, and some strong cold medicine, you’re on your way to a full recovery.
And at the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong with eating more oranges.
Readers: What types of cold treatments have you used that worked for you? Comment below!!
For more information and details about the study and the Eatright article I mentioned, check out the links below:
1. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold
2. EatRight Article on Vitamin C