Common cold : Is Vitamin C useful?

DIRECT ANSWER – NO (high variability)

Commmon cold is one of the most common diseases that many people suffer from atleast once a year. Well, there are also some who suffer from it most times of the year.

Vitamin C medication has been advised as a common cold medication since long. It is also thought that, regular intake of Vitamin C tablets will help in commom cold prophlaxis.

Vitamin C is available in market in market as over the counter medication and in various forms such as vitamin c chewable tablets or Vitamin C + zinc lozenges . These are marketed as common cold remedy measure and common cold prevention measure.

How true are these thoughts? Today we will find out till what extent vitamin C is usefull in prophylaxis as well in treatment.

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Prophylaxis means a measure to stop something before its occurence.

It was found that, 1000mg daily Vitamin C prophylaxis reduced the duration by 8% in adults and 13% in children. Also huge variation were seen in these results, some even stating there was no effect of Vitamin C propylaxis. These percentages are too small to be recommended to people as common cold prophylaxis.

A research was conducted in school children, where students were given prophylactic Vitmain C and were checked if this prophylaxis decreased the incidences or duration of common cold. Suprisingly, no effect was found neither in number of children becoming ill nor in the number of episodes nor in the mean duration of illness.

The above results were seen in normal, well nourished individuals who were not suffereing from any major disease. This suggests that Vitamin C supplementation is not necessary for Common Cold prevention. A healthy lifestyle and wholesome food will be enough to keep your immmunity good.


If you are have undergone a short period of physical strain such as severe exercise or a treck, or similar which is beyond your regular physical limits. Vitamin C prophylaxis is found to be useful.

Vitamin C 1000mg prophylaxis in such individuals can help in reducing the common cold symptoms and common cold duration.

This is because whenever we undergo any physically stressing event, our body’s immunity capacity decreases for a short period of time. And it is during that time, we require additional measure or supplements to increase the immunity power of our body.

So it will be good to start to start Vitamin C prophylaxis couple of days before u are planning for physically straining yourself.

Also if you are someone who suffers from a running nose maximum time of the year, then 1000mg Vitamin C prophylaxis can be useful to you as well.


Talking about effect of Vitamin C on common cold treatment, the story doesn’t change that much from prevention.

When Vitamin C was started after the onset of comon cold symptoms, it was noted that Vitamin C did reduce the common cold duration and its severity by 14%-25% in various individuals. But there were hugh variations seen in the results. There are some studies which denied any beneficial effect of Vitamin C tablets in treatment.

It was recommended in a few met-analysis studies that Vitmin C should be advised according to individual’s experience on effect of Vitamin C on common cold.

Variation in results were largely dependent on the Vitamin C dosages given to the study subjects.

A dose of 1500mg to 2000mg on 1st day followed by 1000mg for 4-6 days was found to be effective in several studies.


PROPHYLAXIS– only if you have undergone physical strain 

TREATMENT–  Beneficial, but should be tried on individual basis.

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  1. Does vitamin C alleviate the symptoms of the common cold?–a review of current evidence by H Hemil√§ 
  2. Mega-dose vitamin C in treatment of the common cold: a randomised controlled trial by C Audera, R V Patulny, B H Sander, R M Douglas
  3. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold by Harri Hemilä , Elizabeth Chalker
  4. What are the effects of vitamin C on the duration and severity of the common cold? by Sebasti√°n Quidel, Evelyn G√≥mez, Gonzalo Bravo-Soto, √Āngela Ortigoza
  5. The effect on winter illness of large doses of vitamin C by T W Anderson, G Suranyi, G H Beaton
  6. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold by R M Douglas, H Hemila, R D’Souza, E B Chalker, B Treacy
  7. Vitamin C supplementation and common cold symptoms: factors affecting the magnitude of the benefit by H Hemilä
  8. Vitamin C and common cold incidence: a review of studies with subjects under heavy physical stress by H Hemilä
  9. Non-antibiotic treatments for upper-respiratory tract infections (common cold) by B Arroll 
  10. Vitamin C and the common cold: using identical twins as controls by A B Carr, R Einstein, L Y Lai, N G Martin, G A Starmer
  11. Vitamin C and acute illness in Navajo school children by J L Coulehan, S Eberhard, L Kapner, F Taylor, K Rogers, P Garry
  12. Winter illness and vitamin C: the effect of relatively low doses by T W Anderson, G H Beaton, P Corey, L Spero
  13. Does vitamin C prevent the common cold? by Evelyn G√≥mez, Sebasti√°n Quidel, Gonzalo Bravo-Soto, √Āngela Ortigoza
  14. The effects of ascorbic acid and flavonoids on the occurrence of symptoms normally associated with the common cold by I M Baird, R E Hughes, H K Wilson, J E Davies, A N Howard
  15. A trial of ascorbic acid in the treatment of the common cold by D A Tyrrell, J W Craig, T W Meada, T White.

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