The A to Z of vitamin C – Times of Malta

We all remember how our grandmother would insist on shoving oranges down our throats when we were kids. “It will make you stronger,” she would say while proceeding to peel, pulp or juice it. Then we would close our eyes and gulp it down, closing our eyes to balance the lip-clenching sourness.

But was the sacrifice worth it or were we victim to one of those myths passed down from one generation to the next?

Vitamin C was first touted for everyday use in the 1970s as a means to help the immune system and combat colds. It is found naturally in fruits and vegetables, most commonly in oranges and citrus fruits. It is also needed for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of the body. It is used to form an important protein, heal wounds, repair and maintain cartilage, bones and teeth while also helping in the absorption of iron. So, yes grandma might have been right – to some extent at least.

Despite its popularity, experts say there’s very little proof vitamin C actually works. In a July 2007 study, researchers put this to the test, trying to find out whether taking 200 milligrams or more of vitamin C could in fact reduce the duration or severity of a cold. Reviewing 60 years of clinical research, they discovered that when vitamin C is taken after a cold it did not make a difference. However, if taken daily, vitamin C could shorten the duration of a cold by eight per cent in adults and 14 per cent in children.

Accordingly, an average adult who suffers a cold for 12 days a year would suffer for about 11 days if vitamin C is taken regularly. In a child, 28 sick days a year can be reduced to 24 days. It’s all good news – but not really overwhelming, is it?

Nonetheless, when vitamin C was tested for treatment of colds in seven separate studies, it resulted that it was actually much more effective than a placebo at shortening the duration of a cold.

So, in general, vitamin C is a safe way to try to suffer a few days less of that dreadful cold but, as research shows, it does not make such a huge impact on day-to-day health. Taking that into consideration, eat fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C – just don’t expect any miracles.

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