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January 24, 2022

The Vitamin C Defense

Is it or isn’t it a cold remedy?

Dr. Linus Pauling started it in 1970. You may have heard of him. He’s been called one of the 20 greatest scientists of all time. He’s one of only four people to ever win two Nobel Prizes (chemistry and peace). That’s why when he claimed large doses of Vitamin C could knock out the common cold people listened.

It’s a belief that persists to this day. Despite any real or definitive evidence. More than 50 years and countless studies later, the consensus among medical professionals is that the vitamin has only a modest impact on cold prevention or reducing the duration or severity of symptoms.

But does it matter? 

We all know we need vitamin C, whether we’re feeling sniffly or not. It is an antioxidant, meaning it helps to protect you against the effects of free radicals which are thought to be an agent in cancer and other diseases. 

It’s also required for making blood vessels, cartilage, muscle, collagen in our bones and plays a crucial part in the healing process.

How do I get it?

The thing about vitamin C is you need a daily intake. Our bodies don’t produce it or store it. Most of us get the daily recommended allowance (RDA) from our diet. Fruits and vegetables are often good sources including:

  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Citrus fruits
  • Berries
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Cabbage
How much do I need?

Here are the recommended daily amounts:

  • 90 milligrams for adult men
  • 75 milligrams for adult women

For perspective:

1 orange = 70 mgs or 78% of RDA

1/2 cup cooked broccoli = 51 mg or 57%

Should I consider supplements?

Some are more likely to be deficient in vitamin C. You might consider taking a supplement if you are:

  • A smoker or are around secondhand smoking
  • Diagnosed with certain gastrointestinal conditions or certain types of cancer
  • Eating a diet that doesn't regularly include fruits and vegetables

The Mayo Clinic notes that if you are taking vitamin C for antioxidant benefits, supplements are thought to be less effective than getting it from natural sources in your diet. 

The bottom line.

For your health in general, vitamin C is, well, vital. Fortunately, eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables is enough to get your recommended daily allowance. 

When it comes to fighting off a cold, you’re not likely to feel a noticeable benefit, even when consuming larger amounts. Dr. Bruce Bistrian, chief of clinical nutrition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School summed it up like this: "The findings of a large number of studies on the subject are mixed. The data show that vitamin C is only marginally beneficial when it comes to the common cold.”

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