It’s not uncommon for someone who’s snifflin’ to show up at work with their arms full of vitamin C tablets and a carton of orange juice. “I don’t have time to be sick,” they say with a congested voice. “I’ve been chugging orange juice all weekend.”
Vitamin C loading is a go-to home remedy for many people once early cold symptoms appear. Moms have been recommending it to their kids, who recommended it to their kids. Does it work?
Sorry, moms: Orange juice (and vitamin C tablets) won’t chase the cold away.
Although the orange juice strategy is a myth, it’s based in some logic. One of vitamin C’s main functions is to support the immune system. It is an antioxidant, so it boosts immune function, according to the National Institutes of Health.
But having a stronger immune system doesn’t mean you’re cold-proof. What it can do is make your colds less miserable. Regularly reaching your daily recommended intake of vitamin C—as part of an overall healthy diet—may help shorten the duration of your colds and make your cold symptoms less severe. While there are some mixed studies, the general consensus is that taking vitamin C after the onset of symptoms won’t have any effect on your colds.
Plus, when it comes to nutrients, more isn’t always better. Regarding vitamin C, intake above 1,000 milligrams just gets excreted through urine, so starting your ill morning with 7 glasses of orange juice and a vitamin C tablet will do nothing (except make you have to pee and give you a sugar rush).
Here’s the thing: On average, most Americans easily meet their vitamin C requirement. Adult women only need 75 milligrams of vitamin C daily, and men need 90 milligrams. (That recommendation is higher for smokers because this antioxidant can somewhat alleviate the harmful effects of cigarettes.)
While you can technically get lots of vitamin C from orange juice, experts recommend getting your nutrients from whole foods, which have the benefit of fiber to improve digestion. The top food sources of vitamin C include:
Red bell pepper (95 mg)
An actual orange (70 mg)
Broccoli (51 mg)
So what should you do if you feel a cold come on? Well, for starters, if you’re sick, protect your coworkers and consider staying home. Then, drink fluids (like water or warm tea with buckwheat honey to soothe coughs), and get plenty of rest: Your immune system uses up a lot of energy to fight off infections. If you need it, take OTC pain relievers to reduce fever and body aches.
As for vitamin C? It’s not on the prescription.