Ascorbic acid, more commonly known as Vitamin C, is a very interesting and often overlooked substance. It’s commonly used as a preservative and small amounts are used to fortify many foods. It is also one of the most popular supplements.
With few exceptions, the current mainstream scientific consensus seems to be that taking more than the RDA of vitamin C does nothing remarkable. Its only dietary role is to prevent the more salient symptoms of scurvy, and it cannot do anything for say, the common cold. 1
The “fringe” opinion of Vitamin C, spearheaded by the work of late double-Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, has been that Vitamin C plays a much more vital role in human health than it has been credited for, and that like the B vitamins, it must be replenished more frequently than other nutrients due to its water-soluble nature and the relative inability of the body to store or synthesize it 2, though the body holds onto it at different rates depending on the organs or system the Vitamin C resides in and whether blood plasma is reaching the saturation threshold of Vitamin C. 3
According to Pauling and his proponents, vitamin C can prevent, reduce or eliminate symptoms of diseases like the cold or the flu, but typically it must be taken at doses well above the RDA (2 grams or more) and must be administered periodically.
Mainstream science has repeatedly denied these claims, or has not gotten around to investigating them with more scrutiny, pointing to studies with faulty procedures as to why the benefits are inconclusive, and studies that do not use the alternative methods to determine that it does nothing.
But rather than just taking the mainstream’s word for it, or just taking the fringe’s word for it, I’m going to make an attempt to examine why each side claims what they claim, and whether it is a possibility that Vitamin C doses above and beyond the RDA can help with the cold or flu.
Studies similar to one another show Vitamin C at low doses or acute administration does little to help with cold or flu
Some studies that proclaim that vitamin C cannot do anything for the cold and/or flu have used a measly 1 or 2 grams in a 24 hour period, or administering one single dose per day 4
Others likewise have failed to explain how much or how often vitamin C is administered before drawing the conclusion that it does not work. 5
In 2007, a meta-analysis concluded that use of Vitamin C as prophylactic for cold or flu is hardly justified except for athletes and those who were exposed to cold temperatures. 6 It was revised in 2013 to state that Vitamin C may be useful for reducing the duration of colds, but needs further investigation on an individual basis to determine if it is beneficial to oneself. 7
A replicable study vindicates the use of Vitamin C for cold or flu symptoms
One interesting study I came across called “The effectiveness of vitamin C in preventing and relieving the symptoms of virus-induced respiratory infections.” 8 Here is the method that was used:
Investigators tracked the number of reports of cold and flu symptoms among the 1991 test population of the facility compared with the reports of like symptoms among the 1990 control population. Those in the control population reporting symptoms were treated with pain relievers and decongestants, whereas those in the test population reporting symptoms were treated with hourly doses of 1000 mg of Vitamin C for the first 6 hours and then 3 times daily thereafter. Those not reporting symptoms in the test group were also administered 1000-mg doses 3 times daily.
What is concluded from this study?
Overall, reported flu and cold symptoms in the test group decreased 85% compared with the control group after the administration of megadose Vitamin C.
A different administration dosage and frequency yielded positive results compared to the other studies.
How does this one study stand out from the others?
The latter study, “The effectiveness of vitamin C in preventing and relieving the symptoms of virus-induced respiratory infections,” used Vitamin C in the following ways:
- 1 gram “mega” doses
- Administered periodically (1 gram per hour for 6 hours, then 1 gram 3 times per day afterward)
Whereas the previous studies that did not find any benefit to Vitamin C in treating cold, flu and their respective symptoms used one or more of the following methods:
- less than 1 gram as threshold, administration frequency typically not specified
- >1 gram mega dose, acutely administered (one time per day)
Though the literature makes it appear that we haven’t fully explored this idea just yet, perhaps periodic administration of 1 gram or less of vitamin C multiple times per day may compensate for states of increased oxidation that may deplete the body’s small stores of the vitamin, such as during a bout of the cold or flu.
Smokers, alcohol drinkers (alcoholics?), type II diabetics and the like tend to be associated with lower levels of vitamin C, and likewise for those with viral infections and fever. 9 These may be the increased states of oxidation that would benefit from extra Vitamin C.
Though Examine’s page on Vitamin C concludes that it is not known if Vitamin C administration therapy is clinically useful, the above study that vindicates the use of Vitamin C may carry the implication that periodic administration of Vitamin C can help the body get the amount it needs and replenish what is lost from tissues that maintain greater concentrated stores of the substance.
But again, this is all just my layman/armchair opinion.
Purchasing Vitamin C
Though I will go more in-depth on different vitamin C products soon, gram for gram Powder City has some of the most affordable ascorbic acid in bulk, and it’s very competitively priced.
If you prefer not to order online, you can find vitamin C supplements almost anywhere.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||PubMed – “Vitamin C supplementation and common cold symptoms: problems with inaccurate reviews.”|
|2.||↑||PubMed – Pharmacokinetics of vitamin C: insights into the oral and intravenous administration of ascorbate.|
|3.||↑||Wikipedia – Vitamin C – Absorption, transport, and excretion|
|4.||↑||PubMed – “Mega-dose vitamin C in treatment of the common cold: a randomised controlled trial.”|
|5.||↑||PubMed – “A trial of ascorbic acid in the treatment of the common cold.”|
|6.||↑||PubMed – “Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold.” (2007)|
|7.||↑||PubMed – “Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold.” (2013)|
|8.||↑||PubMed – The effectiveness of vitamin C in preventing and relieving the symptoms of virus-induced respiratory infections.|
|9.||↑||Examine.com – Vitamin C – Biological Significance|