Nick McClary column: Ahchoo! Vitamin C not a cure for the common cold – South Strand news

Over the past few columns, I’ve discussed some of the issues and the scientific evidence regarding supplements.

We covered the lack of regulation from the Food and Drug Administration in regard to testing for safety and effectiveness. And we also covered the current scientific evidence on multivitamins, which is that there isn’t good evidence on their use for the prevention of disease. A decrease in certain types of cancers among male physicians who took a multivitamin has been shown, but applying these results to all populations gets a little hairier.

Before we go too much further, though, always follow supplement prescriptions from your medical doctor. Although evidence for multivitamin use may be conflicting and inconclusive currently, a legitimate deficiency or need to supplement can occur. Examples can include a vitamin D deficiency, iron supplementation for anemia or folic acid supplementation while trying to become pregnant. There are specific populations and segments that can benefit largely from supplements. However, there are so many individual cases, it’s impossible to cover them all. So just follow the recommendations of your medical doctor when applicable.

Since we’ve covered multivitamins, perhaps the most commonly used supplement, let’s take a look at perhaps the second most commonly used supplement: vitamin C. Specifically, I want to review some evidence regarding vitamin C and something nearly every deals with every year: the common cold.

Vitamin C could be seen as the start the dietary supplement explosion that has resulted in the $30 billion per year industry it is today. Back in 1970, Linus Pauling, a chemist and two-time Nobel Prize winner, declared that high doses of vitamin C every day could stave off the common cold. For almost two decades, he evangelized that claim and went to his death bed claiming that his high doses of vitamin C delayed his onset of prostate cancer. I think it’s reasonable to say that he was effective in promoting the claim as if you were to ask just about anyone off the street what vitamin they should take for the common cold, I believe most would say vitamin C.

But does vitamin C actually cure the common cold? Well, let’s take a look at the scientific evidence.

Thankfully, the Cochrane Collaboration has already reviewed the evidence regarding vitamin C and the common cold for us. For those who aren’t familiar with the Cochrane Collaboration, it publishes systematic reviews that are widely and internationally recognized as the highest standard in evidence-based health care resources. It was a name I became very familiar with in physical therapy school when learning about evidence-based practice.

In 2013, Cochrane published a systematic review titled  “Vitamin C for Preventing and Treating the Common Cold.” It reviewed all relevant studies regarding vitamin C and the common cold as far back as the year 1966.

Unfortunately, the results weren’t outstanding for vitamin C.

The studies found that vitamin C supplementation does not reduce the incidence of colds in the general population. They did find, however, that regular supplementation seemed to reduce the duration of colds. But this wasn’t replicated in therapeutic trials. This means that if you’re taking vitamin C regularly, you’ll likely experience the common cold the same number of times as if you weren’t. However, if you are taking it regularly, your symptoms may be shortened compared to if you were not taking vitamin C. Taking vitamin C after the onset of a cold, however, doesn’t appear to shorten the duration of the cold.

That’s the conclusion, at least for now, on vitamin C for the common cold. As in many cases, further study into the subject is warranted and in the future with enough studies showing a positive effect, the recommendation could change. The authors of the review, however, do go so far as to recommend that due to its low cost and safety, it might be worthwhile to test out on an individual basis whether taking vitamin C is beneficial for your common cold.

(Nick McClary earned his doctor of physical therapy from University of Tennessee. He is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He was born in Georgetown and lives and works in Pawleys Island. Send him your health and fitness questions at:


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