Vitamin C and the Common Cold

Integrative Clinical Pharmacist Scott Berliner, RPh

The controversy over vitamin C and its use in preventing and treating the “common cold” and the influenza virus rages on. There are studies that say it works and some that say it does not. So what do we do?

First of all, vitamin C is not made by our bodies and is necessary for life. In addition, nutrient testing of common food sources of vitamin C reveal that just like all other nutrients, the levels of vitamin C or ascorbic acid is greatly reduced due to common large farming practices employed today. These practices generally focus on volume rather than quality. A recent study done in France suggests a daily intake of 1000mg of vitamin C a day plus a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Several other recent studies indicate great benefit from vitamin supplementation after exercise and in cold climates.

Recently we have been able to identify the genetic changes that can be made using nutrient supplementation. This new field, called proteomics, attempts to measure the benefits of vitamin C supplementation on the immune system. Some of these studies indicate that 2 grams a day is optimal but this did not include what you can derive from food. Though vitamin C may not change the genetics, it appears that it can alter the way the genes are expressed and so the anti-cancer benefits and other immune enhancing benefits from ascorbic acid, vitamin C, make it an inexpensive nutrient to add to our daily nutrients for enhanced immune benefits.

For those people with sensitive stomachs, there are buffered vitamin C formulas like Ester C, as well as other well balanced ascorbate complexes.

I think a sensible approach to the controversy over the dosing of vitamin C would be to take about 2000mg a day and eat sensibly, integrating healthy sources of vitamin C into the diet. Eating citrus fruits is one easy way to do this. The citrus juices that are squeezed in another part of the country and then driven around for a few weeks after being pasteurized and homogenized, contain very little quality nutrients, though they may taste good.

Most of the information alluding to the use of mega-doses of vitamin C was an outcome of the research done by Linus Pauling who consumed 12,000mgs of vitamin C daily and upwards of 40,000mgs if he was getting sick. His research is generally considered to be faulty and the real clinical, placebo-controlled studies have generally proven his theories of dosing to be wrong. To complicate the issue even more, some of the criticism makes mention of the difference in oral vitamin C versus intravenous C.

I believe that at this point, it is safe to take about 2000mg of vitamin C, which contains bioflavonoids, for added flavone and phenolic activity on a daily basis. Evidence indicates that the bioflavonoids may boost vitamin C absorption as well as act synergistically for increases in activity. Along with other support for the immune system, vitamin C may be helpful in limiting the effects of cold and flu.