Does Vitamin C Actually Treat the Common Cold?

There is not a cure for the common cold and most people catch a cold multiple times each year. For many adults, this results in missing work or getting others sick, and neither option is ideal. Some people use natural remedies to treat it, and other people use cold medicines. Around 1970, Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling claimed that high doses of vitamin C could prevent colds, thus popularizing the idea that this mineral treats colds. Most of us make sure we take vitamin C when we start feeling under the weather but does it really work? Let’s find out.

Studies with Vitamin C and the Common Cold

Since Pauling’s claim, no one has been able to back it up with research. For decades, scientists have studied the results of using vitamin C to treat colds, but there is not any conclusive evidence. There were 29 studies that collectively followed over 11,000 participants who took 200 milligrams or more of this mineral daily. Keep in mind that the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 90 milligrams a day for adult men and 75 milligrams a day for adult women. Each of these studies found that taking such a dose did not reduce the risk of catching a cold.

Some people believe that the more vitamin C they take while they have a cold, the quicker they will get better. In reality, extremely high doses can cause more problems on top of your cold. If you take over 2,000 milligrams a day, you may experience kidney stones, nausea, and diarrhea. You are better off sticking to the RDA so you do not feel even more sick as you try to fight off a cold.

The Results Are Minimal

Even though vitamin C does not reduce the risk of catching a cold, studies did find that it can slightly shorten the cold and lessen its severity. However, it really is not by much. If you take vitamin C daily, adults may have 8 percent shorter colds and children may have 14 percent shorter colds. For adults, this means that if they have a cold 12 days during the year, they can shorten it to 11 days by taking the mineral daily. For children, this shortens 28 days of having a cold each year to 24 days. While this helps slightly, it does not make much of a difference.

The studies also found that this vitamin helps those under intense physical stress significantly more. This includes marathon runners, skiers, and other such sports. When taking vitamin C daily, the number of days they had the flu was almost half the number of the other participants. This is because the vitamin aids in iron absorption, healing wounds, creating scar tissue, and maintaining bone health. All of these are especially important to those under intense physical stress.

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Foods High in Vitamin C

As stated in the section above, vitamin C does several things for your body. While it may not have much of an effect on your yearly cold, it does help with your immune system. This vitamin is highly concentrated in immune cells, and infections quickly deplete it. When you are sick, it is important to maintain your daily vitamin intake. If you let it deplete, you will become more susceptible to other infections. While you can take daily supplements, most doctors recommend using the foods you eat instead. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C, not just oranges! Here are some fruits and vegetables to try:

  • Broccoli
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Citrus Fruits
  • Cranberries
  • Green and Red Peppers
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Spinach and Other Leafy Green
  • Watermelon


While taking the RDA of vitamin C does not prevent the common cold, it can slightly lessen the duration of your sickness. Some believe it can also lessen the severity of the cold, but there is not any conclusive evidence to support it. To get the most out of this mineral, you will need to get your dose in every day. There are also several other benefits that come from this vitamin, so it is important to make sure you have enough!

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Lacey Jolley

I love exploring, experiencing new places, and eating good food! I'm amazed every day at how well the Earth provides for us, and I want to return the favor. I hope to help others learn how we can make our world a better, cleaner place.

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