There’s never a good time to be sick. Nobody wants to miss out on college experiences, but it’s impossible to avoid germs completely (especially when your dorm room is one of the dirtiest places). So how do you prevent sickness in the first place? My solution has always been Emergen-C. 

My paranoia about getting sick was always calmed by the tangy, fizzy (although not quite delicious) taste. And if I’m being honest, opening the crinkly packet and stirring the powder into a big glass of water has been a ritual I’ve grown to love. But now that we’re in the middle of flu season, I started wondering whether taking Emergen-C consistently was really keeping me healthy.

First Things First: What Exactly Is Emergen-C?

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Ari Richman
As you might have guessed from the name, Emergen-C contains 1,000 mg of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). For comparison, the NIH recommends adult males and females consume 90 mg and 75 mg per day, respectively. This nutrient plays an essential role in regenerating antioxidants and maintaining a healthy immune system. Emergen-C also claims to boost energy by incorporating B vitamins, zinc, and electrolytes.

So Is It Actually Preventing Me from Getting Sick?

Not according to science. Multiple studies have found that loading up on vitamin C won’t necessarily prevent or treat your common cold. Dee Sandquist, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, recommends taking caution before overdoing it with any vitamin. “As Americans, we think more is better, but that’s not the case with vitamins,” she says.

And because Emergen-C is considered a dietary supplement, it doesn’t have to be researched for safety and efficacy before it’s available for purchase. So basically, we have no idea if Emergen-C even works.

In fact, there’s reason to be cautious about taking too much vitamin C: you can overdose. You aren’t going to die, but the side effects aren’t pretty. Think nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Gerard Mullin, director of integrative gastrointestinal nutrition services at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, warns that “in high-enough doses, vitamin C can cause kidney stones.”

The Final Verdict

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Marlee Goldman
You won’t get hurt by taking Emergen-C once in a while, but it definitely won’t prevent you from being sick ever again. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, “you’re probably just wasting money taking these higher doses.”

The best advice? Prevent illness the natural way by living a healthy lifestyle. Eat well, exercise regularly, and take a multivitamin. Dr. Weil recommends getting vitamin C from citrus fruits, red peppers, and sweet potatoes. It’s not as easy as stirring a packet of Emergen-C into your water, but your health is worth the effort.