We probably all have childhood memories of a parent or a family member telling us that vitamin C will prevent us from catching a cold. We’ve carried this popular medical advice with us into adulthood, and any time we hear a dear friend with a little cough, we offer a vitamin C packet that’s meant to boost their immune system and give them some energy.
But does vitamin C really have all the power we think it does? Is it really the kind of supplement that protects us from getting sick? We chatted with Jennifer Wider, M.D, renowned women’s health expert, author, and radio host, to settle this matter once and for all, because we’re sure you want to know the truth just as much as we do.
If you grew up thinking vitamin C was the secret to warding off a cold, you may need a little time to process it all, because it turns out this vitamin isn’t as magical as we once thought. Dr. Wider tells us that researchers have found that vitamin C has “little to no benefit for the average person in the prevention of a cold.”
However, that doesn’t mean you should entirely give up on it. “There is some evidence…that taking vitamin C before the onset of a cold can actually shorten the length of the symptoms,” Dr. Wider says. So if you’ve been around a few sick folks lately, it doesn’t hurt to take some vitamin C, since it might help you get through your cold faster.
Frank Lipman, M.D., wellness expert, author, and founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City, agrees. “Supplementing with vitamin C may be helpful when the body is feeling run down and the immune system could benefit from a boost,” Dr. Lipman tells HG. He recommends 2,000 mg a day if you’re feeling slightly under the weather.
Whenever you take vitamin C, though, Dr. Wider wants you to remember that it’s water soluble, so you need to drink plenty of water in order for it to do its job properly. Drinking a lot of fluids is a great idea anyway if you’re just starting to get sick, so keep H2O handy at all times.
You may have also heard that there’s no such thing as taking too much vitamin C. Both doctors are quick to tell HG that this is far from the truth.
“Too much vitamin C intake can cause things like diarrhea and stomach upset,” Dr. Lipman says. “Mega dosing on vitamin C can be harmful,” Dr. Wider agrees. She says that too much vitamin C can actually cause kidney stones, so don’t go overboard with the supplements just because you’re scared of catching a cold.
“Anything that causes chronic stress and taxes our immune system won’t allow it to function optimally and properly combat illness,” he says. It’s important to eat well, sleep enough, drink plenty of water, manage stress, and exercise regularly. Healthy habits like these are going to do a lot more good at fighting off colds than tossing back vitamin C. Dr. Lipman says taking things like vitamin C zinc along with a wholesome lifestyle definitely won’t hurt, but don’t think your ticket to health is supplements.
At the end of the day, your health is dictated by your everyday choices and habits. Vitamin C may be an ally in the road to wellness, but it’s not going to entirely protect you from a cold.