Ever since I was a kid, at the first sight of sniffles in my house or at school, I would drink a heaping glass of Emergen-C, 1,000 milligrams of pure vitamin C. That habit continued far into my adult life, but I just recently learned some shocking news: there are no reputable, published medical studies that prove vitamin C can treat a cold.

The lack of evidence proves that vitamin C supplements, like the infamous Emergen-C, might just be myths. For the average person, in fact, vitamin C has only been linked to an 8% decrease in cold-like symptoms. Many people consistently use these supplements before and during illness, but there is a huge lack of scientific research proving that these copious amounts of vitamin C really have a positive effect. After all, too much of a good thing doesn't always increase its benefits. 

The Benefits of Vitamin C

I'm not trying to say that vitamin C is bad for you. In fact, it has a lot of health benefits. It's great for your immune system, helps grow muscle tissue and collagen, and helps iron absorption. All this being said, the daily recommended value of vitamin C is about 90 milligrams for men and 75 milligrams for women. One packet of Emergen-C, a very common vitamin C supplement, contains 1,000 milligrams—more than 10 times your daily value of vitamin C as recommended by dieticians. 

It's true that this high intake of vitamin C doesn't usually lead to terrible health consequences, but daily consumption of 2,000 or more milligrams of vitamin C (only 2 packets of Emergen-C) has been linked to diarrhea, nausea, kidney stones, and insomnia. Most vitamin C is absorbed and then released through natural body functions, but it's important to keep in mind that an excess of vitamin C has the potential to cause negative health effects. 

Where the Myth Began

The craze of boosting your immune system with ridiculous amounts of vitamin C mostly began around 1970 with scientist Linus Pauling, who was obsessed with the idea that you could essentially eliminate the common cold using vitamin C. The thoughts he wrote in his books spread, and vitamin C supplements started flying off the shelves. Actual scientific studies didn't seem to back up his research, but the seed was already planted. Linus Pauling continued to boast his accomplishments, and the public agreed with him.

These ideas pushed their way into the modern era, despite the fact that Emergen-C's claims of boosting immune systems still go unsupported by the FDA. 

What can I actually do?

Olivia Schriber

Especially during the cold and flu season, there are many things one can do to keep the body and mind healthy. It is, of course, important to make sure you eat enough vitamin C, which can be found naturally in copious amounts in foods like strawberries, oranges, cantaloupe, and bell peppers. There are a ton of natural ways to keep your immune system healthy as well. Getting plenty of rest is always important, and be sure to eat a well-balanced nutritious diet, all the time. And if you really want to believe the old wives tale that Emergen-C or other supplements work, go ahead, but keep in mind that mild stomach upset is possible. 

What's the Point?

While it's true that there are no long-term side effects to too much vitamin C, I encourage people to continue to tread carefully when it comes to taking vitamin supplements. The lack of scientific research backing up Emergen-C's claims of preventative medicine should be slightly worrisome to the average consumer.

Much more important than drinking an Emergen-C every morning is continuing to live a healthy lifestyle, eating appropriate amounts of all nutrients and giving your body time to rest and recuperate from any sickness it may encounter. Stay healthy, everyone.