The main property of the orange is its high vitamin C content. This is why it has traditionally been linked to a healthy diet. In addition, the intake of vitamin C is one of the most traditional natural remedies to fight colds. But what’s the truth of it?
Linus Pauling was the key figure in the vitamin C story. Pauling was diagnosed in 1941 with Bright’s disease, a kidney ailment that forced him to follow a strict salt-free, low-protein diet, which was accompanied by vitamin supplements.
The success of the treatment led Pauling, who was a chemical engineer, to become interested in orthomolecular medicine, that is, increasing the amount of vitamins present in the body through the consumption of supplements and thus improving health.
Pauling’s interest was accompanied by a fashion in the 1970s that gave great importance to vitamins and the chemist himself even claimed that vitamin C could cure cancer. Even today there is still the Linus Pauling Institute, which claims that regular intake of vitamin C increases the immune response.
In 2013, a team of doctors conducted the most ambitious study on the beneficial effects of vitamin C on the body. They studied 29 previous studies, involving 11,000 participants. Their main conclusion could not be more blunt: “Taking vitamin C does not reduce the chance of catching a cold, nor does it reduce the duration of a cold.”
But there are facts that give rise to the myth. For example, vitamin C is known to halve the chance of catching a cold in people undergoing extreme physical activity and wear and tear, such as marathon athletes, cross-country skiers or soldiers in subarctic environments.
This means that in people with a normal life, vitamin C will not have an advantage in whether or not they get a cold, but it will in people with a vitamin C deficit.
“So far, scientific evidence suggests that regular vitamin C intake of at least 200 milligrams daily does not reduce the incidence of the common cold in the general population, but that same intake may be helpful in people subjected to extreme physical exertion, extreme cold conditions, or marginal vitamin C levels such as the elderly or chronic smokers,” says the U.S. National Institute of Health.