Treat the Common Cold: New Studies on Vitamin C and Zinc Supplements

News Capsules: New studies on treating the common cold with vitamins and supplements.

| September/October 1997

  • Vitamin C can halp treat the common cold, but the recommended dosage is still undetermined.
    Photo by Dean Shareski/ Courtesy Flickr:

The latest on vitamin C, zinc, and the common cold

When a cold unpacks its aches and pains in your body, it takes more than wishful thinking to evict it. Studies show that vitamin C and the mineral zinc may help by reducing the severity of symptoms and duration of the ­illness. Medical research has yet to pinpoint all of the biochemical processes through which these substances may protect us from winter bugs, but research to date is promising.

Vitamin C: How much to take?

The healthy body uses vitamin C to produce tissue, speed wound healing, regulate blood clotting, and, in combination with other antioxidants, disarm cell-damaging free radicals. Researchers speculate that vitamin C’s antioxidant ­behavior may be responsible for its ability to fight colds and flu. Its role in the production of interferon, a protein that can keep viruses from multiplying, also appears to be ­important.(1)

More than twenty clinical studies conducted since 1971 have shown that vitamin C can help treat the common cold.(2) The studies generally show that vitamin C reduces the duration of the common cold by 37 percent, but doesn’t reduce the number of colds individuals suffer from each year.(3)

An unresolved controversy, however, is how much vitamin C to take. Two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling conducted extensive research during the 1970s on vitamin C and the common cold. He found that 1,000 mg or more of vitamin C each day reduced the duration of colds and eased cold symptoms. The current U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for general health maintenance is 60 mg a day. But, based on a 1996 study, officials at the National Institutes of Health recommend that people take 200 mg daily for regular health maintenance.

Meanwhile, researchers at Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin, studied urine samples from fifty healthy adults to establish vitamin C levels. They found that 500 mg of vitamin C taken every twelve hours—the equivalent of sixteen oranges a day—was the optimal dose for regular health care, according to a report in Reuters Health eline, an on-line health news service.

James Sensenig, a naturopathic doctor and interim dean of the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine in Connecticut, recommends that otherwise healthy adult cold sufferers increase their intake of vitamin C to about 1,000 mg three times a day while acute symptoms last, and take a more moderate daily dose during healthier times. A moderate dose ranges from 250 to 2,000 mg daily or more, according to various researchers, depending on activity level and individual health. A buffered vitamin C will be easier on the stomachs of those who find the vitamin’s acidity upsetting. Consult your health-care practitioner for information specific to your needs.

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