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Does Vitamin C Prevent Colds?

Taking vitamin C lowers the chance of catching a cold for people doing heavy exercise such as running marathons.

Q. When the nurse in my doctor’s office asked me what supplements I take, I mentioned vitamin C and told him that I up the dose if I feel a cold coming on. He laughed and said that had been disproven ages ago.

I am convinced it works for me. What do you say?

A. Taking vitamin C for preventing colds has been controversial for decades, ever since Linus Pauling recommended this strategy back in 1970. Since then there have been numerous studies but only limited evidence that this vitamin actually prevents colds.

Studies among marathon runners and people under severe winter conditions show that vitamin C cuts the risk of a cold in half under these circumstances (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, May 13, 2013). Other research indicates that people taking vitamin C regularly, as you do, are sick for fewer days if they catch a cold.

For more information about a variety of strategies to treat cold symptoms, including ginger or elderberry tea, vitamin D and zinc, we offer our Guide to Colds, Coughs & the Flu. Vitamin C used in this way does not appear to have serious adverse effects, though some people may find that at high doses it causes diarrhea.

We have written previously about other ways of preventing colds, especially handwashing and sanitizing surfaces that could spread cold viruses.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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