To Take or Not to Take the Vitamin C
Vitamin C or L-ascorbic acid is an essential nutrient for human health. The importance of Vitamin C was first recognized by Dr. James Lind who discovered that giving citrus fruits to sailors prevented them from getting a dreaded disease known as scurvy which is a severe vitamin C deficiency that causes bleeding gums, fatigue, dermatitis, jaundice and eventually death. It was later discovered that vitamin C, which is present only in fresh fruits and vegetables, was the cause, and sailors on long voyages who mostly subsisted on cured meats and dried grains were at higher risk of the deficiency and subsequent development of scurvy.
What does Vitamin C Do?
Vitamin C is important in many different functions in the body and acts as a cofactor for at least eight different enzymatic reactions. It is important in collagen synthesis, wound healing and the anti-oxidation pathways. Being a water soluble vitamin, it is readily absorbed by the body and excreted by the kidneys. Vitamin C is also found in high concentrations in immune cells and quickly consumed during infections however its exact role with immune function is not understood. It is safe even at high doses and animal studies have shown a remarkably high tolerance.
Vitamin C has been promoted as a treatment for a variety of different illnesses ranging from curing cancer to treating whooping cough; none have been more debated than the role of vitamin C in preventing and treating the common cold. Stores are stocked full of products like Emergen-C during the winter season, but what is the evidence behind its use?
Can Vitamin C Cure a Cold?
Studies on vitamin C and the common cold have had mixed results. A review article from 2014 done by the Public Health Department of Finland, which included 29 trials involving 11,306 participants, concluded that consistent vitamin C supplementation although not justified to decrease the incidence of colds, could have a role in decreasing their severity and duration given its low cost and safety. The duration of cold symptoms was reduced by 8% in adults and 14% in children.
Despite conclusive scientific evidence on the topic, vitamin C is a safe option to try when having cold symptoms. You can take it as a supplement or get it from a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C decomposes quickly when cooked, therefore it is important to consume fresh sources of vitamin C raw to get adequate dietary intake. Best of luck this winter season and remember to drink your orange juice!