Vitamin C: Everything You Need to Know
Do you reach for an orange, a glass of orange juice, or a vitamin C tablet at the first sign of a cold? If so, you aren’t alone. It’s an impulse nudged by Vitamin C and the Common Cold, written in 1970 by Linus Pauling, a double Nobel laureate and self-proclaimed champion of vitamin C. Pauling fervently believed that megadoses of vitamin C—between 1,000 and 2,000 milligrams a day (the amount in twelve to twenty-four oranges!) could prevent and abort colds . . . and could do the same for cancer.
There’s no question that vitamin C plays a role in fighting infection. It helps make collagen, a substance you need for healthy bones, ligaments, teeth, gums, and blood vessels. It helps make several hormones and chemical messengers used in the brain and nerves. It is also a potent antioxidant that can neutralize the tissue-damaging free radicals that assail the body.
We’ve known for almost two hundred years that citrus fruits prevent scurvy, a once-feared disease that killed an estimated 2 million sailors between 1500 and 1800. It wasn’t until 1932, though, that vitamin C was discovered and found to be the active agent in citrus fruits responsible for fighting scurvy.
Can high doses of vitamin C fight other diseases?
Not the common cold: study after study has failed to prove Pauling’s proposition.
There’s a smattering of evidence that a little extra vitamin C, about the amount found in a typical multivitamin, at the very beginning of a cold might relieve some symptoms, but there’s no support for megadoses.