Vitamin C Doesn't Prevent Colds. Why Do We Think It Does?

Brilliance | Dec. 11, 2017

When you feel a cold coming on, it can seem that recommendations to take lots of vitamin C are everywhere you turn. And while popping vitamin C pills and gulping vitamin-C-rich beverages probably won't do you harm, it won't do you much good either. That's because study after study has shown that vitamin C is ineffective in preventing, treating, or even speeding recovery of the common cold. The science is so conclusive, in fact, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, and the American Dietetic Association don't recommend its use for cold treatment or prevention.

But if vitamin C doesn't do anything to colds, why do we think it does? That's all thanks to a scientist named Linus Pauling. Though Pauling won two Nobel Prizes in his lifetime—one for a discovery about chemical bonds, another for his work in opposition of nuclear war—his scientific interests became somewhat bizarre when he reached his mid-60s. When he took the advice of an untrained yet self-proclaimed doctor to take 50 times the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C per day in order to prolong his life, Pauling recalled, "The severe colds I had suffered several times a year all my life no longer occurred. After a few years, I increased my intake of vitamin C to ten times, then twenty times, then three hundred times the RDA: now 18,000 milligrams per day." He wrote a book urging others to do the same, and in response, 50 million Americans were taking his advice by the mid-1970s—despite the many scientific studies proving him wrong. Learn more about cold-curing myths in the videos below.

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