Reading Richard Preston’s “The Hot Zone” was one of the most influential books in my young life. It’s about the outbreaks of Ebola in Africa, and in a Virginia lab in 1989. (If you haven’t read it, go pick up a copy at your local library!)
It got me curious about viruses, which I later learned are so amazingly cool. They’re a bag of proteins and genetic material–not able to be classified as “alive”, as they don’t have all the characteristics of a living organism. They need a host to replicate, and they do so in such interesting ways.
What they can do is unbelievable and terrifying, and we are lucky to be able to stop some of them with vaccines.
We now have an Ebola vaccine that’s working. This vaccine will prevent so many deaths from this terrifying disease.
Ebola is spread through bodily fluids like blood. Should someone contract this virus, there’s a 25-90% death rate.
This virus, as Preston explains, can cause, among other symptoms, the infected person to hemorrhage and bleed from places like the nose and mouth. The blood spatter from an infected person can infect those close by who are carrying for the patient or handling the body. This happens around 1-2 days before the patient dies, at a rate of 30-50% of patients. Of course, symptoms may not include the bleeding, but they are still pretty nasty.
Outbreaks have been hitting record highs in the last five years, but this is all about to change with this fantastic new vaccine.
Vaccines give us the ability to potentially remove diseases from populations where the infections were once rapid. How darn awesome.
Read more here in NATURE (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03490-8)
I am sick with a cold just about every month in the winter. In fact, I’m sick right now.
You may be able to relate when I say I load up on cold medicine and cough drops when I get sick. There are so many choices when it comes to cough drops, but subconsciously I choose the ones with vitamin C. I see the stuffy-nosed people next to me in the store doing the same.
This morning as I sit here sniffling and coughing, I’m wondering if it’s worth spending money on vitamin C products.
Does vitamin C help us get over colds faster, and do I need to run out right now and get some?
Here’s what you need to know about vitamin C.
If you want to stay active and healthy, vitamin C is a must. It helps keep our bones, muscles, and blood vessels strong and functioning. It also assists with the formation of collagen and helps us absorb iron. Last but not least, vitamin C is found in high concentrations in immune cells and is quickly depleted during an infection. 
Taking a supplement can be beneficial but getting your vitamin C from whole foods is better. Eating citrus fruits like oranges, as well as kale and red bell peppers are excellent sources of vitamin C. To get enough of this vitamin you’d have to eat the recommended five servings of both fruits and vegetables a day.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t hit the mark on that.
So, are supplements a good source of vitamin C, and are they safe?
Sure, supplements are safe and a good source of vitamin C, but only in the recommended amount. Too much vitamin C is not good. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 90mg for men and 75mg for women. Children need vitamin C, also. Talk to your pediatrician about the dose of vitamin C for your child.
If you go above 400mg, it’s pointless, and you’ll pee it out, so don’t waste your money. Any more than 2000mg/day may cause diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, and kidney stones. Check the label on the bottle and make sure you’re getting the proper dose if you’re going to take the supplement.
Is taking vitamin C going to help you get over a cold faster?
The science shows that if you’re going to take a vitamin C supplement in hopes that you’ll have benefits to your immune system, you have to take it every day all year long.
Researchers aren’t, however, in agreement that it’s going to help you if you take vitamin C at the beginning of a cold.
Here’s the science.
This all started in the 1970s when a chemist named Linus Pauling came up with the theory that vitamin C could help treat colds. He published a book about this even though at the time there were no reliable studies that backed his theory.
Nearly 50 years later, we have some reliable studies.
In 2007, researchers found that taking +200mg of vitamin C at the start of a cold didn’t help. However, when taken all year it lessened the duration of the cold by one day in adults and by two days in children. 
Contrary to that, a 2013 study found that the general population didn’t benefit from year-round vitamin C. However, it did help in people exposed to severe physical exercise and stress, like marathon runners and skiers. 
In a more recent 2017 study, researchers found that regularly taking vitamin C helps lessen the amount of time people have colds, especially in very active people. However, they aren’t sure if it helps when taking it at the start of a cold. Interestingly, they did find that regularly taking vitamin C helped prevent pneumonia. 
What does this all mean?
If you eat your fruits and veggies and incorporate a vitamin C supplement, you might have some benefits when it comes to helping your immune system fight off a cold. This is particularly helpful if you put extreme stress on your body. However, you don’t need to spend extra money on vitamin C products in hopes that it will help your cold if you already have one.
Here’s some advice from me.
As a researcher in molecular medicine, I think you have to take this research with a grain of salt. Vitamin C may help a little with the passing of a cold, however, it’s no miracle. The results of these experiments are somewhat unclear.
There’s no cure for the common cold, so you’re just going to have to ride it out when you get one. While you ride it out, make sure you keep yourself home and don’t be a spreader of disease.
You may want to add a supplement to your healthy diet. It’s a good idea to get enough vitamin C. Talk to your doctor about what supplements are best for you.
My final thoughts as I sit here with a cold?
I’m not running out to get vitamin C. I will, however, eat a few oranges today and try my best to down some veggies since I know they are good for me.
I’m going to do my part and stay home as much as I can so I’m not out there spreading this. Having a cold is no fun, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, especially an infant or child.
We all could make some healthier choices. If you’ve learned anything from this, it’s that!
Stay healthy folks!
1 Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50(2):85-94. Epub 2005 Dec 21. Review. PubMed PMID: 16373990.
2 Barclay L, Murata P. Vitamin C May be Effective Against Common Cold. Primarily in Special Populations.” The Cochrane Collaboration. 2007 July 18. Review. Medscape.
3 Hemilä H, Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 31;(1):CD000980. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4. Review. PubMed PMID: 23440782.
4 Hemilä H. Vitamin C and Infections. Nutrients. 2017 Mar 29;9(4). pii: E339. doi: 10.3390/nu9040339. Review. PubMed PMID: 28353648; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5409678.
Did you know…
Measles cases in the US are the highest they’ve been since 2016, with successive increases every year.
There are 200+ cases of measles in the US per year. (2019)
The measles still is a leading cause of childhood deaths in children under five worldwide, killing around 400 kids a day.
There are around 100,000 deaths a year. Many cases go unreported so the number may be much higher.
The MMR (measles) vaccine is 97% effective (and safe).
We need 95% of people vaccinated to keep measles out of our communities.
Only 86% of children get the first dose of MMR, and only 69% get the second dose. If they don’t get the second dose, they are not fully protected.
If a group of unvaccinated people are left in a room with just one individual with the measles, 90% of them will most likely get it.
The measles is preventable. Get your kids the MMR vaccine. It’s never too late.
PHOTO CRED: The Scientist Magazine