British Journal of Nutrition

Nutritional Epidemiology

Vitamin C and the common cold

Harri Hemiläa1

a1 Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki, Valimotie 7, SF-00380 Helsinki, Finland

Abstract

The effect of vitamin C on the common cold has been the subject of several studies. These studies do not support a considerable decrease in the incidence of the common cold with supplemental vitamin C. However, vitamin C has consistently decreased the duration of cold episodes and the severity of symptoms. The benefits that have been observed in different studies show a large variation and, therefore, the clinical significance may not be clearly inferred from them. The biochemical explanation for the benefits may be based on the antioxidant property of vitamin C. In an infection, phagocytic leucocytes become activated and they produce oxidizing compounds which are released from the cell. By reacting with these oxidants, vitamin C may decrease the inflammatory effects caused by them. Scurvy, which is caused by a deficiency in vitamin C, is mostly attributed to the decreased synthesis of collagen. However, vitamin C also participates in several other reactions, such as the destruction of oxidizing substances. The common cold studies indicate that the amounts of vitamin C which safely protect from scurvy may still be too low to provide an efficient rate for other reactions, possibly antioxidant in nature, in infected people.

(Received August 10 1990)

(Accepted March 25 1991)