We all know how it goes. It starts will a small, unassuming tickle in your throat, a funny feeling that something isn’t quite right… and before you know it, your head is sore and pounding, your nose is stuffy and runny and your throat appears to have reformed into a new structure, made up entirely of tiny pieces of glass. On top of all this, you quickly discover you are suddenly outcast by society. People hurry past you, hands over their mouths, throwing you worried glances, and even those people who are supposed to love you the most won’t consider giving you a much needed hug or simply let you join them for dinner (aww your sick….wouldn’t you much prefer to have your food in your room, Helen?). So you’re stuck with your miserable self and your germy friend, the common cold, until your immune system gathers the troops and sends him (obviously a him) on his merry way.
Okay, okay. I realise I’m probably being a little melodramatic here, *snuffle* but as a recent victim, things are still a little raw ;)
There are actually over 200 strains of virus that can cause a cold. I don’t know if you have noticed, but when you are struck down by the dreaded bug, it’s not uncommon to receive a million little gems of wisdom on how to get better, usually from all those well meaning folk who care about your well being (from a distance). The world is full of these weird and wonderful forms of dietary trickery, each one promising that they will be sure to rid you of a colds vice like grip on your nostrils, throat and head, and these little pieces of advice must come from somewhere, right? But what do we really know about them? Can you really ‘cure’ your cold just by eating the right foods?
So I decided to do a little run down of the most frequently cited nutrition based cold ‘fixes’ & the truth behind the claims…..
First up, the classic advice:
“Take some Vitamin C”
Vitamin C has been touted as a treatment for respiratory infection since the early 1930’s, but it only became REALLY popular in the 70’s after the world famous chemist (and nobel prize winner) Linus Pauling carried out a review of scientific literature and concluded that high dose vitamin C could cure the common cold. Despite little sound evidence for his claims and widespread criticism of his review, vitamin C is remains a popular product, sold in bucket loads as preventative therapy and cure for the common cold.
What does the science say?
Although there has been widespread public interest in vitamin C as a go to remedy for the cold, results from extensive research that has been carried out in this area have been a little underwhelming, to say the least. The most recent review, carried out by Cochrane (THE Gold standard in reviews of scientific literature due to their stringent methodology) looked at over 11,000 people supplementing their diets with a minimum of 200mg of vitamin C a day (the RDI or recommended daily intake for adults is 40mg). Unfortunately they found that vitamin C supplementation did not prevent the occurrence of colds.
There were some positive results though.
Firstly, there did seem to be a reduction in the severity and duration of colds in people who routinely used vitamin C supplements (although the effect was minimal and only equated to about 1 day over a whole year).
Secondly, for athletes or those people with very high exercise loads, e.g. marathon runners, vitamin C supplementation reduced the incidence of colds by about 50% – interesting!
So simply put:
- Taking vitamin C supplements wont stop you getting a cold.
- Taking vitamin C supplements after the onset of a cold will have no effect on how bad your symptoms are or how long you have it for
- If you routinely supplement with vitamin C, you might experience a small reduction in the severity & duration of your cold
- If you’re an athlete, taking a vitamin C supplement along side your regular diet may prevent you getting a cold
Most of us should be able to meet our daily vitamin C requirements (and more!) from our diet. 200mg per day isn’t that much vitamin C, and supplementing regularly can be expensive. To me, meeting your requirements as part of a well balanced diet makes more sense and is a little more enjoyable too! If you’re an athlete, elderly or someone with poor fruit and vegetable intake you might benefit from taking a supplement in addition to your regular diet.Side Note: Some people recommend ‘mega dosing’ vitamin C in doses of >2000mg per day. This practice has very little scientific backing and it is worth noting that high doses of vitamin C have been linked to stomach cramps, diarrhoea and in some cases, kidney stones.
Next up!! Echinacea!
Have you any cold cures you would like to me review? Please, share them in the comment or drop me a line!
Cochrane Review (2013) Vitamin C for Preventing & Treating the Common Cold