What You Think You Know About Vitamin C and the Common Cold is Wrong
Taking massive doses of vitamin C to protect against viruses and diseases may actually have harmful effects.
Are you taking vitamin C in the hope of not catching an annoying cold? Are you overdosing on vitamin C in the hope of curing a common cold?
News flash: neither of these are the solution to your nasty, sometimes mucus-laden problem. Surprised? Well, you're not the only one.
It has been a popular belief that vitamin C is what you need to protect and cure yourself of a common cold. But medical experts revealed that it does not prevent or help reduce cold symptoms.
The only time that vitamin C is useful and effective is “when taken daily by those exposed to periods of high stress, such as marathon runners, that can reduce the risk of catching a cold,” according to research.
And they say vitamins are good for your health, which is true. But you can easily get vitamin C from the foods you eat, not necessarily from supplements.
So who started the myths about vitamin C?
Known as “The Vitamin C Man,” Linus Pauling was the most famous forerunner of using high doses of vitamin C as a treatment for colds and other diseases, including cancer.
According to the physical chemist, 1000 mg of vitamin C and higher can cure scurvy, colds, cancer, and heart disease. His discoveries, which were widely rebuffed by the medical community, was detailed in a series of books:
- Vitamin C and the Common Cold (1970)
- Vitamin C, the Common Cold and the Flu (1976)
- Vitamin C and Cancer (1979)
- How to Feel Better and Live Longer (1986)
The physicist himself takes 12,000 mg of vitamin C daily, based on the dose of vitamin C that veterinarians recommend for primates, which is higher than what was recommended for people. Extrapolating the dosage given to monkeys, Pauling determined that humans are likely to need 200 times more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin C—or a minimum of 6 grams per day. The established RDA was at 40 to 60 mg per day.
The biggest sign that Pauling had this wrong was when he died of prostate cancer in 1994, which is one of the diseases he claimed that vitamin C can cure.
Vitamin C is not for everybody
People with kidney diseases should avoid taking vitamin C in large doses, as it can cause a build-up of oxalate, a molecule that can prevent the absorption of calcium. The oxalate may stay in soft tissues and bones that could lead to other health issues and pain over time.
Pregnant women should not take large doses of vitamin C supplements that may increase the risk of pre-term birth. They should only take the recommended daily dose of 85 mg for expectant mothers at age 19 and older and 80 mg for ages 14 to 18.
High doses of vitamin C may also cause chest pain, dental erosion, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, heartburn, increased risk of Parkinson's disease, urinary complications, and other side effects.
Linus Pauling definitely got it wrong with vitamin C in large doses. Clearly, too much of anything, including vitamin C, is bad for your health.
About the Author
Brandon Welch is the executive vice president of the American Pharmacy Purchasing Alliance and sits on the Advisory Board of Digital Marketing for the University of South Florida​, where he is a PharmD candidate.