Autumn, the time for bonfires, pumpkin spice lattes, beautiful fall colors... and the sniffles.
Fall and winter are peak seasons for colds. And one of the most popular remedies for fighting off those pesky colds is to load up on vitamin C.
But does popping vitamin C tablets like candy do anything for your cold?
Vitamin C And The Immune System
Vitamin C is required for several functions including making collagen, carnitine, and neurotransmitters. Collagen is a protein found in skin, bones, tendons and cartilage. Carnitine helps with energy production by transporting fatty acids into the mitochondria (your tiny power stations) for oxidation. Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that help transfer information throughout your body and brain.
More commonly, vitamin C is known for its antioxidant properties. Free radicals are made during normal metabolic processes and spawn from things like pollution, radiation, and cigarette smoke. Antioxidants, like vitamin C, help to neutralize these cell and tissue damaging free radicals.
Does it Help the Common Cold?
Over the last couple decades, several studies involving thousands of people, have examined the ability of vitamin C to prevent and treat the common cold.
But, even ingestion of high doses of vitamin C has not been shown to prevent the common cold. However, habitual vitamin C consumption may reduce the duration of colds by 3% to 13%.
Taking vitamin C will not reduce the number of colds you get per year, but it can help reduce the severity and modestly reduce the time you have the cold.
As always, focus on foods first. Food sources of vitamin C contain several other important nutrients that you cannot get from a supplement. Excellent sources are asparagus cantaloupe, oranges, broccoli, grapefruit, kale and strawberries.
If you choose to supplement with vitamin C, it is best to take smaller doses. This is because the absorption of vitamin C decreases with increased intake. Less than 50% of vitamin C is typically absorbed at intakes above 1 g.
Gavin Van De Walle holds a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and is a certified personal trainer. He is in the coordinated dietetic internship program at South Dakota State University where he is a Master of Science candidate in nutrition with a specialization in sports nutrition. Contact Gavin at