For most of us the symptoms of a cold result in nothing more than slowing down our energy, getting a runny nose and missing a day or two of work, but for those with weaker immune systems it can lead to more critical conditions like pneumonia. As we approach winter, it's the perfect time to learn the best treatments for the common cold so we can ensure our immune systems are ready to beat congestion

What is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, acts as an antioxidant in the body and has been a popular cold remedy for a long time, just like including citruses into your diet. Although Vitamin C was known to help prevent scurvy, it became directly associated with the common cold after Linus Pauling, a Nobel Laureate in chemistry, wrote in 1970 that Vitamin C prevents and alleviates the symptoms of a cold. His work primarily opened up further research into the effects of Vitamin C and is pretty much why we all reach for the stuff to treat a cold!

How does Vitamin C support the body?

Over the years there has been conflicting research about the effects of Vitamin C on reducing the frequency, duration and severity of a cold. During a study that was carried out to determine the immune-enhancing role of Vitamin C and zinc and their combined effect, they found out that Vitamin C rapidly declines in the bloodstream during periods of stress and infection.

By supplementing with Vitamin C, so by adding zinc, components of the human immune system such as antimicrobial cell activity and hypersensitivity of cells are improved – so it was seen that both Vitamin C and zinc reduce the risk, severity and duration of infectious diseases and influenza.

For example, if you're the kind of person who does spurts of severe exercise, like marathon running or skiing, regular Vitamin C intake before, during and after the practice is important to avoid getting that cold that always disrupts your rhythm during practice as it reduces the severity and duration of a cold by 8% in adults and 14% in children. A major benefit is that it supports and protects the body from some chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease and in some cases, cancer.

How much Vitamin C treats a cold or flu?

How much Vitamin C do we need?

The National Health Service in the UK recommends that adults need 40mg of Vitamin C a day, as it can't be produced or stored in the body. Be careful though, that doesn't mean that taking an amount like 1,000mg a day will cover your tracks! Overtaking it can cause stomach ache, diarrhea and even flatulence. Try to incorporate foods that contain Vitamin C into your diet on a daily basis for the extra support, like oranges, red peppers and kale.

If you're a smoker, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) set by the Food and Nutrition Board is increased by 35mg a day to provide antioxidant protection, so 75mg a day for women and 90mg a day for men.

Foods that contain Vitamin C

It's easy to incpororate antioxidant properties into your daily diet, but one thing to be aware of is that when taking Vitamin C, either through the diet or as a supplement, you need to be aware that your body may not absorb it all. It's difficult to measure how much you actually do absorb as it depends on certain features of the digestive system that are unique to each individual. Some of the best foods to eat for Vitamin C are:

• Oranges: 83.2mg per 1 cup of ornage sections, or 185 grams

• Strawberries: 97.6mg per 1 cup sliced strawberries, or 166 grams

• Cooked or boiled broccoli: 64.9mg per 100 grams 

Is it ok to take Vitamin C if you don't have a cold?

There is no harm in taking Vitamin C when we catch a cold or when we don't have the sniffles at all. However, the important things to take away are that if you are taking regular recommended doses of it per day and you're still getting sick, you may have a zinc deficiency, are stressed out or are not getting enough sleep. So, Vitamin C on its own will not be the only solution to reducing the length and severity of a cold – stay healthy this winter by eating balanced meals which contain fruits and vegetables that provide you with a variety of nutrients to support your immune system!

Remember, always consult your physician to discuss any dietary changes or potential dietary supplements if you're currently using prescription medications.

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