Does Vitamin C Cure the Common Cold?

Last time you had a cold, the chances are at some point you heard about the benefits of vitamin C and why you should take it to shorten a cold, but is this true? Can vitamin C really shorten a cold? To try to answer this question, let’s look at the science behind vitamin C.

Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is an essential vitamin that is not produced by your body, meaning you have to consume it through food and drinks. Vitamin C is required for your body to produce collagen, carnitine, catecholamines, and is an antioxidant. Collagen is an essential component of connective tissue, carnitine is required to transport fatty acids to the mitochondria, the cell’s energy source, and catecholamines are neurotransmitters that mediate a variety of your central nervous system functions. As an antioxidant vitamin C prevents reactive chemicals that contain oxygen from damaging other cells in your body. This may help prevent certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Overall, vitamin C is important for your body to function efficiently. But going back to the initial question, how does it affect our immune systems? Vitamin C may improve the absorption of iron by up to 3 fold. Iron serves as an innate immune mechanism, meaning it protects your body from pathogens for short term periods. It will kill the pathogen but it will not give you immunity to the pathogen. So more vitamin C mean more iron, and more iron means more dead pathogens, but does this really result in a shorter cold?

A Cochrane Review in 2007 tested this theory with a sample of humans and had some interesting results. They discovered for the general population, taking vitamin C does not reduce your chances of getting a cold, unless you submit your body to extreme conditions such as marathon running or extremely cold environments. For the soldiers, skiers, and runners out there, taking a vitamin C supplement can reduce your chance of acquiring a cold by as much as 50%. For the average person, you reduce your chance by only 8%. The kicker is if you wait until you get a cold to start taking vitamin C, it will not help. If vitamin C was taken after the onset of the cold it did not shorten the cold’s duration or severity of symptoms.

If you are not submitting your body to extreme environments, and that 8% reduced chance of getting a cold sounds appealing, then supplement your current diet with about 400-500 mg of vitamin C per day. Also, if you believe you are not consuming at least 300 mg of vitamin C from your normal diet then you may at risk for scurvy, so add a supplement to your diet. Some common foods that are good sources of vitamin C are red pepper, green pepper, oranges, broccoli, strawberries, kiwis, and grapefruit. If you eat enough fruits and veggies, then you shouldn’t need to supplement vitamin C. However, the toxicity of vitamin C is so low that even high doses will leave you unharmed.

In summary, if you consistently get enough vitamin C, you may be able to reduce your chances of getting a cold. If you start taking vitamin C after you get a cold, it will not reduce the duration or the severity of the cold.

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Cold Weather Running Tips

Having grown up in north-central Illinois, there’s not much weather I haven’t experienced in some way or another. There’s also not much weather I haven’t run in, in some way or another. From blisteringly hot, humid days to the frigid “polar vortex” air that sweeps across the prairie, running is possible with the right know-how and gear.

As the holidays come into full swing, the two weeks you may be lucky enough to spend celebrating is plenty of time to incorporate some running into your life, no matter where you live. As I pack my bags for home and some cold weather running, I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned about running when it’s chilly.

Drink Water!

You may not realize it, but when you’re running in the cold you’re also getting dehydrated more quickly than normal. You may not be sweating, but your body is using plenty of water to stay warm and keep your feet moving. Although it may seem unnatural to drink cold water on a cold day while you’re running, it is absolutely essential. I’ve found that a wearable water source gets the job done for me, while some people prefer to carry water bottles. Another trick is to put a bottle of water somewhere along your route (if you run a loop) and take a sip each time you pass by.

Layer, Layer, Layer

Those new thermals at the running shop may look really awesome, but there comes a point when the wind and cold cut through even the most hi-tech of fabrics. The best answer to cold weather is the old fashioned layering method. It’s all about keeping the heat in when you’re running, so combining multiple fabrics and clothing weights is a great way to make sure you’re insulated against whatever comes your way. Think sweatshirt over long sleeve athletic shirt, sweats over leggings and socks over socks.  The best part about layering is that if it warms up, you can take a layer off to avoid getting overheated.

Have a Plan

Winter weather can change quickly, so always tell someone you trust about your route during the winter month. Take account for the earlier nightfall and the cooler temperatures that accompany those hours. Cell phones have been known to malfunction in cold temperatures, further emphasizing the need for another person who knows where you’re going. Also, if you’ve never run in cold, start with a shorter run and build up.

Don’t Forget About the Hands!

So you’re all layered up, hydration backpack set to go, and you have….one pair of cotton gloves. A lesson I didn’t have to learn twice is cold hands make for a long run. Invest in a good pair (or two) of winter gloves so you can have toasty hands and return from your run with the same number of digits as when you left.

This is a guest post by Zackary A. Landers. Landers is an ultramarathoner who is always looking for ways to serve his community and help his friends on the path to better health.