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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Health Effects of Being Overweight or Obese

In June 2017 an article by the New England Journal of Medicine was released analyzing the health risks of obese and overweight individuals in 195 countries over 25 years. Here are the major conclusions of that study:

  • There is probable evidence that being overweight leads to 20 different diseases including back pain, several types of cancers, stroke, heart disease, hypertension, and osteoarthritis
  • The lowest overall risk of death was observed for a BMI of 20 to 25. Click here to determine your BMI.
  • Globally, 5% of children and 12% of adults are obese. Obesity is generally higher in women than in men
  • The prevalence of obesity has doubled in 73 countries in the last few decades
  • In 2015, high BMI contributed to 4.0 million deaths globally with cardiovascular disease being the primary cause
  • High BMI also accounted for 28.6 million years lived with disability
  • From 1990 through 2015, there was a relative increase of 28.3% in the global rate of death related to high BMI
  • “The results show that both the prevalence and disease burden of high BMI are increasing globally. These findings highlight the need for implementation of multicomponent interventions to reduce the prevalence and disease burden of high BMI”

Global obesity is increasing and the evidence supporting the resultant diseases of obesity at this point are irrefutable. What do you think we can do as a community to help prevent the further increase in obesity rates and further disease? Comment below.

What is Obesity?

Obesity can be defined in many ways, but there is perhaps only one way we should look at it. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines obesity as “a condition characterized by the excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body” and can be measured using body mass index (BMI). Simply put, if you are carrying extra fat and you exceed the medical standard for how much you weigh for how tall you are, then you are by definition considered obese.

There are two common ways being diagnosed with obesity are received by the patient: shame and logic. Shame is a feeling of emotional pain and humiliation that comes with insecurity and the failure to live up to their own or someone else’s standards. If someone has lived their whole life believing and reassuring themselves that they are not obese and someone informs them that they meet the definition of an obese individual, it is common for them to feel ashamed. This action and subsequent feeling of shame have recently been called “fat shaming”. In recent years, showing concern for someone’s health by asking them to exercise with them or eat a healthy meal has been considered an elusive but hurtful way of fat shaming.

The other way a diagnosis of obesity can be received is with logic. Being diagnosed with obesity should be thought of the same way as any other disease and a prescription should be made for diet and exercise. The truth is obesity is a serious medical condition that has a built-in positive feedback loop of exacerbated disease. This means the worse your obesity is, the worse you will experience other types of disease. Obesity leads to hypertension, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, sleep disorders, cancer, atherosclerosis, and diabetes. It decreases your quality of life through decreased mobility and increased joint pain. Your medical bills will be higher thus you will have less money, and you are more likely to experience depression if you are obese.

So what is obesity? It is more than just an opportunity to fat shame, it is a medical diagnosis that is likely a significant limiting factor in the patient being able to live a happy and fulfilling life. It is more than just a definition of someone’s weight, it foreshadows the story of one’s life by predicting both physical and mental disease. When someone feels they have been shamed due to their weight, they reserve the right to feel ashamed, especially if there was malicious intent. However, we as a culture need to start seeing obesity as a treatable disease that when cured can significantly increase the quality of someone’s life.

To help combat the rising obesity epidemic we need to start making health and fitness part of our culture. To learn more about how we can do this, read The Grassroots Health Movement, an article about changing our nation’s culture one person at a time.