Enough with the vitamin C already

Okay, so i’ve been horribly sick the last week with this insane flu that’s going around, but possibly the most irritating thing about being sick is all the people telling me to take lots and lots of vitamin C. And then on top of it, I woke up the other morning to the sound of Patrick Holford on the radio assuring the DJ that you should definitely be taking megadoses of vitamin C if you have a cold, and the worst thing that could happen is that you ‘got the runs’, but it was like curry that way.

I’ve bloody well had enough of the lot of you.

So here it is for you: in nearly 40 years of studies and meta-studies, no one has ever been able to prove that you can prevent colds and flu by taking mega-doses of vitamin C. Some of the studies showed a small decrease in the duration of the illness if you were already taking vitamin c regularly before the onset of the illness, but other studies showed the same sort of results regardless of whether the dose was 250mg or 10,00mg. Studies also show you don’t get any benefit from taking a megadose once you’ve already got the cold.

So considering I can get the same (questionable) benefit by drinking a glass of orange juice as I can taking ten tablets, and seeing as the readily admitted side effects are far worse that what’s being treated in the first place, improvement or not, and seeing as it’s only possibly beneficial if I’ve being doing it on a daily basis starting quite some time before I ever got the cold, there is no bloody reason to tell me to stuff myself with vitamin C when you hear I have the flu. So cut it out.

The funniest thing about all of this is that the same people who push the vitamin C urban legend are the ones who complain about Big Pharma, yet it is this same Big Pharma behind the legend in the first place. The Linus Pauling Institute, the chief instigator of the whole myth, is funded by one of the biggest vitamin C manufacturers in the world, global pharmaceutical giant Hoffmann-La Roche. Patrick Holford is himself head of a hugely profitable, multinational pharmaceutical company peddling vitamin C and other products to the credulous masses, without the inconvenience of having to answer to the FDA or publish any studies to back up his claims. These people are Big Pharma, with the added bonus of not having to bother with nonsense like bribing federal watchdogs or faking lab results. They are in it for the same reasons as Pfizer and all the others – the money. And you lot are far too enamoured of your little old wives’ tale to bother checking if any of it is actually true. You just keep on repeating the line you’re fed in all the marketing material these people push out. Wake up and smell the propaganda, you pill-popping sheep!

Christ, I think my irony gland just exploded.


20 Responses to “Enough with the vitamin C already”

  1. residentRsole Says:

    Yup, it’s a damn shame about two-time Nobel Prize Laureate Linus Pauling (and Kerry Mullis).
    I never bother taking any medication these days (or even eating properly). A colleague of mine smokes heavily and drinks copious amounts of coffee. Like me he hardly eats and does zero exercises. He even takes beta-blockers for stress. I just punch walls when I’m pissed off. His teeth are horribly stained. Neither of us look too healthy (or clean, for that matter) but we never get sick. Other colleagues who attend gym regularly, eat well and have a nice stress free life but several times a year they fall ill.

  2. Con-Tester Says:

    “The common cold, if left untreated, lasts about two weeks. If treated with medication and rest, it lasts about fourteen days.”

    As residentRsole hints at, part of the problem is a morbid fascination and overemphasis on matters of hygiene, which often prevents the natural development of immunity through exposure to pathogens. It is thought, for example, that the significant increase in the varieties and incidence of allergies over the past few decades is one effect of this. It would be interesting to conduct an epidemiological study comparing the illness rates of hospital staff (who are regularly exposed to a wide range of pathogens) to that of an ordinary cross-section of people. “Dirt and germs” may not be as bad as we like to pretend.

  3. residentRsole Says:

    Con-Tester: I agree. I used to hang out with med students for many years. They worked in some of the shittiest places in SA. Baragwanath is legendary. A friend of mine used to deliver babies in some of those areas. He told me how much dirt accumulated “down there” and how many swabs he needed to get it all off. Ironically, the thick layer of dirt actually protects them from diseases. Needless to say, he hated his job.

  4. Darth_Morbius Says:

    Moonflake> I have to admit that I feel the same about anti-biotics as you do about Vitamin C.

    Ask around and you will be surpised (or, in my case, shocked) to hear of the copious amounts of anti-biotics prescibed by doctors to anyone who walks into their consulting rooms with so much as a sniffle!

    And it’s been on the increase as well – we even has a woman in the office who went to see her GP about headaches and she was put on a course of anti-biotics!!!!! Whats going to happen to these guys when they go in for an op or develop a serious infection? Their resistance will be so high it’s not going to do squat for them to take any kind of anti-biotics…

    In all honesty though, I don’t blame “Big Pharma” – or, in most cases, even the doctors themselves – it’s the bloody patients who insist on going onto these courses of medication without doing even the most cursory of research into what they are actually doing to themselves…

  5. i must have been lucky in my choice of doctors because I’ve never had one try to prescribe antibiotics to me for anything except actual bacterial infection, and I’ve had at least one actively advise against prescribing antibiotics in cases where the diagnosis didn’t warrant them. But then again, that’s only my experience, and we all know that the plural of anecdote isn’t evidence 🙂

    But I would have to agree with you – as patients we do have some responsibility for being smart about our decisions. It’s always interesting to me how we are more skeptical of our mechanics than we are of our doctors. Sure, they have a responsibility to be qualified, honest and thorough… but we have a responsibility to be realistic in our expectations, and make educated decisions, especially when it’s our own health at risk.

  6. My Japanese tutor cure for the common is to drink lots of tea. He doesn’t bother with vitamins just hot tea. You cough or sniff during a lesson, he tries to press some hot tea on you. Any tea will do aparantly just so long as it’s hot. And only strange people drink hot water.

    One thing maga doeses of vitamin C are good for are the after effects of a migraine (once the pain and disorientaion are gone). I’ve been taking vitamin C for almost two years for that reason and I still get colds.

  7. my mother insists on snorting salt water. I’ve tried it once, at it was one of the most disgusting things i’ve ever experienced.

  8. residentRsole Says:

    moonflake: I’ve tried that too. It’s actually quite fun. Seems to work for me though. Could be the placebo effect.

  9. Con-Tester Says:

    Back in the 60s and 70s the SA Chamber of Mines Research Organization did some seminal work on human heat stress for the gold mining industry. The high temperatures and high humidity encountered underground at depths of 1.5 to 3 km below surface require an understanding of human physiological responses to these adverse conditions. An interesting and significant finding of those studies is that acclimatisation to such conditions is accelerated by regular intakes of large vitamin C doses over the acclimatisation period. The mines loved it of course because it meant a shortening at virtually no extra cost of the idle period that labourers spent in the surface acclimatisation chambers from eleven days to six or seven.

  10. don’t get me wrong – vitamin c, in normal and megadoses, has its uses. But curing the common cold is not one of them 🙂

  11. residentRsole: i think it has something to do with flushing the sinuses or whatnot, but whether it works or not is besides the point… this is a case where the treatment is actually more unpleasant than the illness! Much like getting ‘the runs’ in an attempt to shorten the duration of a cold.

  12. i remember reading somewhere that a study done on athletes that do highly aerobic exercise, regularly, the effect of vitamin C on the symptoms of the cold was highly increased. it also turns out, that a fairly normal dose of vitamin C can decrease the symptoms of the cold, but not the duration. if you take vitamin C before you get sick or at the beginning of being sick, then it can reduce the duration. but, very few people do the sort of exercise that allows it to have a noticeable affect. so, when you have a cold make sure you take the RDA and you will feel slightly better

  13. see the links to the summary of studies i provided. The metastudy conducted in 2004 mentions the link to athletes – the fact that Pauling’s original study was conducted on students at a ski school or something similar is thought to be one of the reasons that his results could not be replicated for so long – he accidentally happened to use the one group of people it works on.

  14. MOst who are obsessed with cleanliness, have more health problems. THis is largley due to the use of antibacterial cleaners. YOu know the ones that say kills 99.9% germs. Sure it kills 99.9% but the .1% which is resistant becomes a super stain which cause far more health issues.
    My neighbors are clean freaks. I once walked through their home with my work boots on and was read the riot act by the mother. They are always sick.

  15. It works for me. I haven’t been sick in the past two years, except for the one time I was overseas and ran out of Vit C. I have also seen studies where they say it can only prevent a cold very early on, and in my own anecdotal experience that seems to be true. I massively dose myself whenever I feel the scratchy throat and generally manage to fight it off so that it never gets into my sinuses. And at R32 for a bottle of 100 x 500 mg tablets I hardly think I’m a sucker to big pharma.

  16. you don’t have to charge a lot for the drugs to be big pharma, i’m sure you understand that you can charge very little if you can con enough people into buying it. Also, is it not possible that the reason you got sick when you were overseas is not because you ran out of vitamin C, but because you were exposed to viral strains that your immune system isn’t familiar with? Coincidence does not imply causation.

    Either way, you’re a scientist, so i’m a little surprised that you aren’t weighing the value of anecdote against the findings of the latest meta-study. Although that aside, I suppose there’s a lot to be said for the placebo effect, so if you started to question it, it would probably stop working for you.

  17. Paul Putter Says:

    Moonflake, maybe it wasn’t salt – and you probably shouldn’t add water… dunno if it helps for colds though

  18. Heh. My dear mother, the just about most overqualified nurse in the country, have a simple three step plan for any cold.

    Gargle salt water. This is mostly to stop the infection spreading down the throat to the lungs.

    Steam with Vick vaprorub or equivalent – clears the sinuses for a couple of hours, and let’s you breath and get one with what needs getting on.

    When you’re not needing to work, sleep.

    It’s a depressingly simple remedy, but colds that stay colds aren’t going to kill you. So treating them with uber drugs is a waste.

  19. Christ, I think my irony gland just exploded.

    tsk tsk – if you’d been taking your vitamin C that never would’ve happened

    (ps – i totally added you to my blogroll on the strength of *comments may contain nuts* alone – and here i am and now they do)

  20. Of course regular or even ‘megadoses of Vitamin C will not signifcant effects on acute illnesses unless administered through IV and often at much higher doses than even the megadoses uses in some of the studies cited in the metastudy.

    The problem seems to be that no one in the scientific community correctly defines megadoses of Vitamin C. Dr Klenner in a 1949 paper in the Southern Mecicine and Surgery cured 60 patients of polio (every single one) through intravenous Vitamin C does of over 20,000 mg a day.

    Tragically this protocol for similar devastating viral and bacterial diseases has never been fully tested by an RCT.

    Those of you whose minds are open to the potential of megadose IV Vitamin C as an effective treatment for most any viral or bacterial ill should read “Curing the Incurable’ by Thomas E. Levy M.D. with over 1200 medical citations.

    This is a national scandal of the first order, condeming millions to significant morbidity and mortality as a result of ignoring the voluminous evidence that Vitamin C, in the right form, for the right length of treatment, using the right dose and in the right method of administration is uprescented in its efficacy.

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