Does vitamin c help fight a cold?

Coughing, sneezing, runny nose. You know the drill. It’s the common cold.

And when it comes to fighting off a cold or speeding up recovery time, there are tons of myths about which supplements and medicines can get the job done. At the top of the list are vitamin C and zinc. But if you’ve ever tried these nutrients to speed up your own recovery time, you’ve likely wondered just how effective they really are.

The truth is, vitamin C and zinc are not effective home remedies in treating a common cold. But the good news is consuming them will help you in other ways.

“I believe that supplements such as vitamin C can help to boost your immune system, but we also have to be aware of risks of too much zinc or vitamin C and the side effects that can occur. As we saw during this pandemic, masks may be the future to help reduce viruses as well,” says Rina Chabra, DO, of Superior Family Medicine-UPMC.

As for kicking symptoms of the common cold, try these methods instead.

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Myths Surrounding Vitamin C and Zinc

When you feel a cold coming on, it’s all about managing your symptoms. That’s because the common cold is actually a type of virus, and there’s no great way to combat a virus with medicines and supplements. You can’t “kill” the common cold with antibiotics.

Instead, we often turn to products that limit mucus, clear our sinuses, and soothe our throats. The other tactic often heard about is boosting your immune system, and that’s where vitamin C and zinc come into play.

Both vitamin C and zinc are effective at boosting the immune system. The problem is, you can’t boost your immune system enough with these two nutrients while battling a cold. Instead, you need to be using these supplements year-round to avoid the common cold in the first place.

A study on zinc in the Journal of Family Practice showed that using the supplement when you already had symptoms a cold was not a promising treatment method, but that using it to prevent a cold could lessen the duration once patients showed symptoms.

Another study mentioned that scientists have debated the efficacy of vitamin C in treating the common cold for decades. The study failed to show that vitamin C prevented the common cold and it only seemed to reduce the duration of the cold in about 8 percent of adults and 14 percent of children.

Preventing the Common Cold

The average American gets the common cold two to three times a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are tons of cold virus strains, which means you’re at risk of catching a new one all the time.

The general advice for avoiding the common cold is plenty of hand-washing, and the best methods involve soaping your hands for at least 20 seconds. In addition, it’s wise to avoid touching your face throughout the day so you don’t introduce the virus to your eyes, nose, and mouth.

You also can use alcohol-based sanitizers and focus on disinfecting surfaces such as desks and doorknobs in shared home and work spaces. Of course, it’s always wise to avoid someone who has symptoms of the common cold, including sneezing, running nose, coughing, body aches, and/or headache. If you have these symptoms, do your part to stay home to get well and to avoid spreading the cold to others.

Here, too, studies run the gamut in determining efficacy of prevention methods. One comprehensive study showed no benefit to vitamin C, gargling, ginseng, garlic, or exercise. The same study showed zinc was “likely beneficial.”

At the top of the list were physical interventions, such as hand-washing and wearing gloves and masks, which proved beneficial.

Managing Symptoms of the Common Cold

Even if you practice the best methods of prevention, chances are good that you’ll still come down with the common cold. Once you have it, the best way to combat it is with plenty of rest and fluids so your body is prepped to fight off the virus.

There are some studies that show decongestants offer short-term relief as well.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.