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The Common Cold and Supplements

The Common Cold and Supplements

By: Samantha McCarthy MS, RD/LDN

The common cold. An inevitable virus we all suffer from each year. While most of the time it is not life-threatening, it is certainly annoying. Many of us are quick to reach for over the counter medications or supplements to help prevent it from getting worse. But do these actually work? I did a little research to find out if the common Vitamin C and Zinc supplement actually help fight off a cold.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is arguably the most common cold supplement out there. You can find it in many forms: drops, powders, teas, and pills. The research behind the popular vitamin and the common cold does not show much promise in helping to fight off colds. For the average American, taking Vitamin C after the onset of a cold has no effect on cold symptoms or length. If you regularly take Vitamin C, whether you have a cold or not, research has shown that Vitamin C can modestly reduce duration of a cold by 8% in adults and 14% in children. Not a very large amount. There is no evidence that it can reduce the incidence of colds.

While it may not prevent you from getting a cold, taking supplemental Vitamin C is not doing too much harm either. The toxicity limit, AKA the point where vitamin C can cause adverse health effects in the body, is 2000 mg per day. A typical supplement averages around 1000mg per day, only half of the upper limit. A typical Vitamin C drop has only 60 mg. It would be difficult to overdo it on vitamin C, unless you are taking multiple cold medicines and remedies. Always check your labels and if you take any other medications, you should approve all supplements with your doctor.



Zinc is another common mineral added into cold remedies, lozenges, and supplements. This mineral has conflicting research behind it. There are many studies that show it can decrease the duration of a cold and also the severity, while others say it has no effect at all. There is more promising evidence that Zinc does have an effect on the common cold, but optimal type and dosage has not been determined. Like Vitamin C, Zinc also has a toxicity limit. For Zinc, you want stay under 40mg per day to be safe. Also, stay away from nasal sprays with Zinc in them as they have been shown to hinder your sense of smell.


So what really works to help fight off colds? Next week, I will discuss how to boost your immune system and prevent those pesky colds!

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