03 February 2006

Does Vitamin-C Prevent Colds?

That's the conventional wisdom. Scientific genius Linus Pauling swore by it, and he won two (!) Nobel Prizes (chemistry, peace) and lived well into his 90s.

There's no question that Vit-C has health benefits, and its role as an antioxidant is well known. But does it actually reduce colds? According to recent research, the answer is yes and no. Or to put it more scientifically, it depends.

Researchers measured two things: incidence and severity. They found that incidence of colds among a normal population was unchanged. But among a subgroup of subjects with high exposure to cold or physical stress (skiers, soldiers, marathon runners), the incidence was reduced by 50%.

The severity of colds was reduced among all subjects (whether normal or high exposure), especially among children.

BUT, the preventive effect only worked if Vit-C levels were sufficient at the time of viral exposure. This suggests it won't do much good to wait until you start feeling sick to take Vit-C; it has to be taken regularly so that levels are high enough at the moment a viral exposure occurs.

There's another problem with taking Vit-C, and that is that one giant pill in the morning will not do the job like you might think. Vit-C is one of the water-soluble vitamins so it doesn't accumulate in the body; excess Vit-C is excreted. So if you take 2,000 mg in the morning, your body will use what it can right then and eliminate the excess. It won't save it for later.

To keep Vit-C levels high and constant, it's better to regularly consume food and drink high in Vit-C.

The WestEnder method to deal with colds & flu (once stricken):

1) Keep Vit-C levels high by drinking lots of O.J. or cranberry juice, etc.
2) Eat 2-3 eggs a day (provide protein, cholesterol, and fat which are building blocks for B-cells and the antibodies they make).
3) Don't take anything to reduce mild fever (Tylenol, e.g.); a slight fever is more ideal for combating infections. You'll feel worse but get better faster.


Jeff Sinnard said...

Linus Pauling is the only person to win two unshared Nobel Prizes. He received the Peace prize in 1962, the year I was born.

He was a truly amazing scientist and human being. We named our son Linus, in part, after Pauling as an affirmation of peace in a time of war.

Funny thing is I think Pauling was wrong about vitamin C. Being water-soluble, massive doses cannot stay in our bodies. But who am I to argue with a Nobel Prize winner.

WestEnder said...

High levels can be maintained if it is taken all day long, which I believe is what he did. He took WAY more than the RDA.

Interesting story about your son!

Michelle Fry said...

If my memory serves me right and it may not, Linus died of cancer. The only thing to really help a cold is zinc which is proven to reduce the length of a cold. Vitamin C is mostly peed out if you take excess doses and it causes bloating.

Getting vitamins from food is always beneficial to getting them from vitamins because foods containing vitimins also contain phytochemicals which are believed to help break the vitamin down in the body. A great source of both vitamin A and C is the mango or any other yellow or orange vegetable (yams, pumpkin) for strictly C choose yellow or orange fruits. I love how fruits and vegetables are color coded in a way. B vitamins are in red and blue foods like blue berries, cranberries, and grapes. Zinc is in a variety of food like nuts, vegetables and some meats.

Allowing your body to reach a fever is helpful unless it reaches over 103. At that point you need to cool yourself (if you aren't too loopy) with a cold shower, bath, or ice if you don't want to take a fever reducing medication because a fever of this temperature can damage blood vessels and brain cells.

God damn I am a science nerd.

WestEnder said...

Pauling died of cancer, but when he was born in 1901, life expectancy was 49 yrs. And he made it to 93, so he milked it pretty good.

Of course, there's no way to prove what contribution Vit-C had or even that it had any at all. All we have is the association. But it's also well known that Vit-C is an immune booster and it's role as an antioxidant means it decreases cancer risk. So there is scientific evidence to support the association.

I looked up the evidence on zinc myself a few years ago, interestingly enough. I followed up on the 2 references on a package of zinc lozenges. Both articles were in obscure journals, and I could only find 1 of them. As I recall, the evidence was not overwhelming, but it was statistically significant that zinc could prevent or lessen colds (same as Vit-C).

BUT, also like Vit-C, it had to be taken as soon as possible after symptoms, basically the first day of a cold. It didn't have any effect if it was taken after the subjects already had a cold.

I always mean to add "taking zinc lozenges" to my anti-cold plan, but I never remember to buy them so I never have them around in those critical first few hours ("the zinc window").

Mark said...

Someone with more knowledge of biology can probably correct me but I've heard that humans are one of the few species of mammals that can't store vitamin C. If so, what's my dog doing that I can't? (Uh, I mean besides THAT.)

WestEnder said...

It's not that most mammals can store it, but they can make it. Humans cannot synthesize Vit-C so we need to get it from our diet.

What your dog is doing that we can't is making l-gulonolactone oxidase!