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Vitamin C: The Cold Cure?

Posted Nov 12 2008 7:52pm

It started off small, almost imperceptible around 4:00 yesterday. "Is it the beginning of a cold, or am I being paranoid". Within an hour, it hit me like a ton of bricks. My throat was sore, my body wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed (it was 6:30), and then I knew it was over. I had the dreaded changing of the seasons cold that everyone had been coming down with.

So now what? Everyone's first piece of advice: "Have some chicken soup and take a TON of vitamin C. Oh, and don't forget to take Airborne every few hours tomorrow." While a study has actually shown that chicken soup can be beneficial for colds ( "New Study Supports Chicken Soup as A Cold Remedy" ), the sad news is that the Vitamin C and Airborne advice has yet to be proven as true. In fact, if you take more than two of the Airborne tablets a day (which most people do) you actually are injesting potentially toxic amounts of Vitamin A (something pregnant women should definetely be concerned with). Airborne actually had to pay $23.3 Million dollars in a settlement because of their false advertising (see "Airborne Agrees to Pay $23.3 Million to Settle Lawsuit Over False Advertising of its 'Miracle Cold Buster'" )

As for Vitamin C, while its antioxidant properties are extremely important to your body, and it is a key component in many metabolic enzymatic functions including proper collagen formation (so your cells can hold tightly together in your bones, skin, tendons and many other parts of the body) and even in neurological pathways, its effect on the treatment of the common cold has yet to be proven. In fact, the most your body can absorb per day is 100 mg and then your tissues are saturated, the rest will be excreted. This fixation all started with Linus Pauling's book, "Vitamin C and the Common Cold" and the media has run with it ever since. Some studies have suggested that regular supplementation of Vitamin C BEFORE getting sick can shorten the duration of the cold, but taking a months worth in three days isn't going to help you.

That being said, there is much to be said about the placebo effect. Your brain is an extremely powerful healing tool, and I definitely believe in the power of some alternative, "unproven" remedies. Many people feel empowered (including myself) by feeling as if we are doing something about our cold. Many of those things are what are parents (or whoever raised us) told us would make us feel better growing up. Hot tea and orange juice is mine, my boyfriend strongly believes that he feels better if he eats less, a friend of mine grew up with her father advising her to gargle salt water when she had a sore throat, and some say it's about taking Vitamin C every few hours. Maybe none of these have been proven, but they may make us mentally feel better, and therefore aid in the recovery process.

Also, due to the American diets of processed foods lacking fruits and vegetables, there may be a certain number of the population who does feel some benefit from taking vitamins when they are sick because they may be deficient in the first place (though the high levels per day are unnecessary). Taking Airborne when they are sick is the equivalent to starting to take a multi-vitamin supplement on a regular basis.

My advice? Eat your chicken soup and oranges when you are sick, and take your supplements on a regular basis, not just when you are feeling bad. Follow those dietary traditions your family passed down if they make you feel better. As for Airborne, go for it if you truly still believe, especially if you aren't taken any vitamins on a regular basis, but be careful about the Vitamin A concentration, and also be aware that any amount of Vitamin C above 100 mg literally puts your money in the toilet. If you are already taking a multi-vitamin daily you really don't need to take Airborne and in doing so you could be going way over the upper limit for many vitamins and minerals. And as usual, don't believe everything you read or hear. I know it's hard for us to believe, but more of something does not necessarily equal a better product or outcome.
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