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Will Extra Vitamin C Prevent Colds?

One couple has found that vitamin C can prevent colds, although research has not shown that this supplement is effective.

Every winter, millions of people suffer with congestion, coughs, fever and other symptoms of the common cold. They may lose days from work. (If they don’t take time off, they spread the virus causing the cold to many other individuals.) But is there a way to prevent colds? One reader thinks he has found one.

Q. My wife and I have been taking extra vitamin C after each meal for more than a dozen years. Despite being around people with colds, we have had none. We’ve had no side effects from the vitamin C.

Does Vitamin C Prevent Colds?

A. Health professionals generally dismiss vitamin C to prevent colds. A review of 29 trials of vitamin C for colds concluded that vitamin C doesn’t seem to prevent colds for most people but it consistently reduces their duration and severity (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Jan. 31, 2013). Perhaps that is because vitamin C can increase the activity of the immune system (Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents, Apr-June, 2013).

More than 200 different viruses can cause cold symptoms, so we’re not surprised that vitamin C might not work against all of them. Along with vitamin C, zinc also enhances immunity and can help reduce the duration of cold symptoms (Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 2006). Two preliminary studies showed that supplementation with 1000 mg vitamin C and 10 mg zinc reduced the duration of runny nose significantly more than placebo (Journal of International Medical Research, 2012).

Other Natural Treatments for Colds:

Analysis of 34 clinical trials show that the Chinese herb Andrographis paniculata and a preparation of ivy, primrose and thyme are far better than placebo for controlling coughs from colds (Forschende Komplementarmedizin, online Dec. 14, 2015).  You’ll find a variety of other natural cold fighters in our Guide to Colds, Coughs and the Flu.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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