The People's Perspective on Medicine

Vitamin C and the Common Cold: Will Ascorbic Acid Help?

Why does the medical establishment have such antipathy to ascorbic acid against the common cold. You would think vitamin C was worthless. It is essential!

One of the most contentious issues in modern medicine revolves around vitamins, especially vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid). For reasons that mystify us, most health professionals dismiss the value of vitamin supplements in general and vitamin C in particular. For decades we have been reading that all you need is a well balanced diet. There are only four people who have won the Nobel Prize twice. Linus Pauling is one of them. He was the strongest advocate for increasing intake of ascorbic acid.

C is for Controversy!

It’s hard to understand why health professionals have reacted with such hostility to something as simple and essential as ascorbic acid. Yet most doctors and medical researchers reacted with outrage when Dr. Pauling suggested that vitamin C could do more than protect us from scurvy.

To this day many physicians reject the idea that vitamin C can be helpful. One group of researchers who were highly critical of the vitamin C hypothesis set out to prove it wrong. However, they had to eat crow and accept the results of their own study. Dr. T. W. Anderson and others, writing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, discovered, much to their surprise, that subjects taking a 1000 mg of vitamin C every day (increasing that dose to 4,000 mg at the onset of a cold) had a 9 percent reduction in frequency and 14 percent reduction in days sick.

A Reader’s Experience:

Q. I take 1000 mg of vitamin C daily with my morning orange juice. I have not had a cold or flu in more than eight years.

Before I started this regimen, I usually had at least one bout of cold or flu every year. That’s a consequence of living in South Florida with its annual tourist visits.

A. Vitamin C to reduce infection with colds or influenza has been controversial for decades. A review of the available research concluded that vitamin C supplements don’t prevent colds, but they may shorten the duration and severity of symptoms (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Oct. 2004).

There is evidence that vitamin C can boost the activity of immune system cells (Nutrients, Nov. 3, 2017).  People who catch a cold may benefit from additional supplements of vitamin C (BioMed Research International, July 5, 2018).

Rejecting Vitamin C for the Common Cold

A recent review in the journal Medwave (Aug. 6, 2018) concluded:

“We identified eight systematic reviews including 45 studies overall, of which 31 were randomized trials. We concluded the consumption of vitamin C does not prevent the incidence of common cold.”

You can almost hear the self righteous delight in such a negative outcome. But we have a question for all the naysayers.

Why Doesn’t Vitamin C Work Every Time?

It is estimated that there are more than 200 distinct viruses that cause the common cold. To assume that they all react the same way to ascorbic acid would be simplistic. As far as we know, no researches have ever attempted to identify the specific viruses that might or might not respond to vitamin C.

Imagine someone rejecting penicillin on the grounds that it did not cure every infection. That would be ridiculous of course. Why not treat vitamin C fairly and do sophisticated research to test our hypothesis that some viruses may be more sensitive to ascorbic acid than others. It is also possible that one person’s immune system might also be more responsive than another persons.

Even if you choose not to take a vitamin supplement, you should make an effort to consume foods that contain ascorbic acid. Certain foods are rich in vitamin C, including red and green bell peppers, citrus fruit and juice, kiwifruit, peaches and others. To learn more about this essential nutrient and other vitamins and minerals, we highly recommend the book, Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and More by Dr. Tieraona Low Dog. A special paperback edition is only available at this link.

Share your own vitamin C story below in the comment section.

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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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I am 78. In 1974, when I was expecting my son, I read “Let’s Have Healthy Children” and Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit” by respected biochemist Adelle Davis. I followed many of her suggestions for nutrition during my pregnancy and later in feeding my infant and toddler son. Davis was adamant about the role of Vitamin C for good health and healing. She even advocated megadoses to cure certain conditions. I followed her advice and took regular doses of Vitamin C and gave some to my son as well. ( It has been too long; I don’t remember quantities.).

I was always careful to take Vitamin C with plenty of water, as I had heard (not sure if it was from Davis or elsewhere) that large doses without sufficient liquid could cause kidney damage. The incident that really made me a believer in the power of Vitamin C was a case of hives I developed about a month before my due date. I couldn’t take an antihistamine because of possible damage to my baby, so I applied topical stuff and just suffered with the hives for about three weeks. The hives disappeared about a week before I delivered but then returned about the third day after my son was born.

I was home by that time and miserable and itching! That first ( or second) night at home I recalled Davis’ accounts of some seemingly miraculous cures of infections (I don’t remember details … still have the books … will look it up) by taking large doses of Vitamin C. So I took a large amount that night … maybe as much as 12,000 milligrams or even higher …… with a lot of water. In the morning my hives were gone… just light pink spots remaining where the previous night there had been red welts. And no more itching!

I assume that my hives were somehow hormone-related, bit there was no doubt in my mind that they would not have disappeared so quickly without the megadose of Vitamin C. Since then I have always taken about 500 mg. of Vitamin C in the morning and another 500 mg. at night. And at the first hint that I might be exposed to a cold, I increase my Vitamin C dosage considerably as well as taking other precautions. Most of the time, I don’t get the cold. Regarding diarrhea upon taking a large dose: ” Diarrhea sometimes occurs if the Vitamin C intake is increased rapidly; a gradual increase is well-tolerated.” ( Davis, “Let’s Have Healthy Children”, p. 192.)

I’ve been taking a gram of complete C for about 50 years, ever since I read about Linus Pauling’s work with it. I rarely have a cold and usually only when I’ve moved or had some other upheaval in my life. Most recently two years ago I began it again right after moving to my new home. If I suspect something coming on I take smaller amounts more often. I also use a nasal irrigation pot.

I have been taking Vitamin C for many years. In fact, it was after my oldest daughter had read about Dr. Pauling’s research regarding Vitamin C. She needed a project to do for high school, so what better project to work on and having your family (Mother, Father, and younger Sister) as test subjects)? The conclusion: the small sample of test subjects, fewer colds overall, and the colds we had seemed to be less intense. I believe she received an A for the project. Since those test results (many years ago) our family still believes in the overall benefits that Vitamin C can do. I also must add the advice to eat a good diet, get a flu shot, wash your hands, and be careful who you shake hands with especially during the cold and flu season. Last, but not least, take some Vitamin C.

I was told that, when diarrhea starts, it is a signal that you have enough Vit C for the present.

I support the recommendation to read Dr Levy’s books on Vitamin C and his latest called Death by Calcium, which also discusses the importance of antioxidants like Vitamin C to reduce the oxidative stress our cells and tissues undergo leading to diseases. He cites 65 pages of references.

So, I totally agree with the benefits of Vitamin C–BUT, not all Vitamin C is the same. Laboratory derived ascorbic acid, that has been isolated out from the entire bioflavonoid complex of citrus fruits and other Vitamin C sources, can be less effective than taking a “complete or full spectrum” Vitamin C, and it can also be damaging to the stomach and intestines. I tried taking a pure ascorbic acid supplement at 1000mg per day and it felt like my stomach had needles inside it! I now take a full spectrum Vitamin C made from crushed whole citrus. It’s lower mg than ascorbic acid supplements but it’s a LOT more bioavailable so more of it goes into your cells, rather than getting peed out or going through your digestive system. Also, some of the science behind why Vt. C works to boost the immune system states that Vitamin C is able to enter a cell and take up “space” there making less room for viruses and bacteria to enter and I think also guarding against them by making the cell wall less permeable to harmful entities.

I believe in Vitamin C. I’ve been taking 1000 mg time-release daily for years, and have not suffered from a cold or flu. I usually take it after breakfast, even if it’s just a piece of toast, so it’s not too rough on the digestive system. I plan to read more of the works of Linus Pauling.

I live in South Florida and tKe 1000 mg of vitamin C a m and p m. It is keeping me free of colds AND it’s good for your skin!

I’m 66 years old and am convinced if I take 1000mg of vitamin C the moment I feel like I’m coming down with a cold, it prevents the cold from getting worse. The trick is to take it at just the right time. If I wait too long, it doesn’t seem to work. I don’t take vitamin C regularly.

I had a very dramatic healing experience in high school after my first mega dose of vitamin C. After suffering from mononucleosis for 3 weeks and not getting better, the doctor said it was time for the hospital. My mother had been reading a popular nutrition book at the time, which talked about mega doses of Vitamin C. My mother was not willing to deal with a hospital stay for me and began a regimen of mega dose of Vitamin C. My fever of 3 weeks broke within an hour, and my healing began. It was quite a learning experience for me at an early stage of my life as to the power of Vitamin C!!!

For one week I did not add the 1000mg vit C tablet to my regimen. then I started to get a sore throat and what seemed like a cold coming on. I slept a lot and re-read Dr. Tierona Low dog’s suggestion in “Healthy at Home”. sage gargle with a little salt and Echinacea tincture. Yes. I love it. Now I’m back to the daily C. I live in NW WI.

Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s my husband worked as a civilian for the air force up in Thule Greenland. When he arrived there he was told that the common cold could easily kill the natives so if he felt like he was getting a cold he was to go straight to the infirmary. Each time that happened he would get a shot and he never actually came down with a cold. Months later when he was headed back home he asked the doctor what was in shot. Turned out it was just vitamin C. So when any of us would start showing symptoms of onset of a cold …. out would come the vitamin c bottle and we would dose up on them and everything would be fine.

I thought it was hooey until one day at work when I started to feel like I was coming down with a cold and still had to get through the day, a colleague handed me a packet of Emergen-C. I respected her too much not to at least try it since her experience with it was good enough that she always kept some in her desk. Within about 60-90 minutes I was feeling noticeably better. It’s not like energy drink kick better, but very pleasantly better. A packet contains Vitamin C 1,000mg, B Vitamins, and electrolytes. They caution not to take more than 2,000 mg of C daily so two packets max.

I just came down with a cold for the first time in years after babysitting my 2 year old granddaughter for the whole weekend– getting sneezed on, coughed on, handing her tissues, wiping her nose. Ugh. Maximum exposure. So thank you for this discussion: I am reminded to go get out the Emergen-C (tangerine flavor is very nice)! It can’t hurt and I don’t take it routinely and also I’m not a fruit eater so I get some in daily vitamin but today calls for a little boost.

I know Linus Pauling was reviled by the medical community for advocating for Vitamin C as practically a cure-all for things like cancer and the common cold. He won a Nobel prize in chemistry and also the Nobel for Peace activism and he founded the field of quantum chemistry and molecular biology and was brilliant in so many areas but his research and advocacy on megavitamin therapy was sadly, kind of sloppy so other scientists seized on that to discredit the role of vitamin C in general, and to this day, you can see, as Joe pointed out, the self-righteous delight of the scientific and medical community in continuing to downplay its role.

All this back and forth based on personal experience or opinion, or on one or two studies is not sensible. Anyone seriously interested in the current, collective, medical data on Vitamin C abilities, side effects, and appropriate dosages must read the two outstanding books by Thomas Levy, MD, a cardiologist, on the many, many scientific studies of Vitamin C. It is by far the most studied vitamin.
“Curing the Incurable” cites and summarizes over 1200 published scientific references on vitamin C studies. “Stop America’s #1 Killer” cites and summarizes an additional 650 published scientific references. on Vitamin C. They are clearly grouped. This is not the opinion of one doctor but the collection and summaries of all these works. I challenge all interested parties to read these books before commenting further.

So Arvid, without having to wade through two lengthy books, what is the consensus?

Can you summarize your discoveries please?

I know a person who takes 1000 to 2000 a day, until allergies hit. She ups the intake significantly and gets relief without all of the OTC meds.
Since it is water soluble, seems like a safe strategy.

Whenever I get a cold I crave oranges, not the juice, its the whole wedge thing with strings and all. Don’t know if it really helps, but is comfort food to me. The only thing I would caution everyone about is too much C on a regular basis. I remember a study a while ago that linked too much C with the development of cataracts.

I am very concerned about your comment in which you say you “remember a study a while ago that linked too much C with the development of cataracts.” I have searched and searched through all internet sources and medical resources for any corroborating data for your comment and, in fact, all I find is the OPPOSITE! What I find over and over in the literature on this subject is that Vitamin C is associated with reduction in the development of cataracts. I would not want other readers here to be left with incorrect information about a vitamin that seems to offer so many health benefits to humans because of something that you think you remember. Unless you can provide supporting information for your recollection, I hope that the Graedons or other informed sources will provide accurate information here.

Vitamin C along with Zinc and Vitamin D, are all important in the support of the immune system. Since most medical programs (doctors) only focus on hard-core drugs, anything natural to the body is ignored. My thinking is that most conditions that arise are the result of a weaker immune system and vitamin and minerals supplements can help improve your defenses against disease.

When I first feel the symptoms of a cold coming on, I take 1000 mg of C and two tablets of zinc. 80% of the time, those symptoms disappear overnight. I continue this plan if the cold doesn’t disappear. I feel it shortens the length of my cold, if I do get the cold. I carry C and zinc near by all the time. Otherwise, I try to get sufficient C from foods.

I’ve been taking 2 or 4 grams of ascorbic acid Vitamin C a day for at least 40 years. I vary it by substituting ester-c, fat-soluble C now and then. I rarely get sick and have never had the flu that I was aware of (I’m 75). I take it because I feel a need for it, and I miss it when I don’t take it.
When I have had infections I switch to a reputable brand of liposomal vitamin c in frequent liquid oral doses. Don’t know what more to say of course I have no scientific proof.

I tried vitamin C while at work when I felt a cold coming on. Unfortunately, one dose of 500mg caused diarrhea within a couple of hours, which was much harder to deal with than the cold symptoms. My understanding is large doses of Vitamin C can often do this. I can’t imagine what 4000mg even at 1000mg 4 times a day would do. I didn’t take any more vitamin C and had no further problems (other than the cold). That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t help in people who tolerate it better.

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