Everyone’s favorite vitamin, Vitamin C, is sold annually by the millions, but what is it actually good for? Is Vitamin C the body’s super nutrient, the cure for all ills, or has some of its reputation been hyped in recent decades?
This post will breakdown the studies behind Vitamin C’s uses to show what situations Vitamin C gives the most bodily support; and breaks through the industry's hidden agenda of "preventing the common cold" so you will know where Vitamin C actually helps.
Treatment of "the common cold" – largely a Myth
First, the usefulness of Vitamin C for treatment of a common cold is probably very low. Researchers at University of Toronto divided study participants into two groups:
An experimental group that received vitamin C supplementation at the onset of cold symptoms, and;
A control group that received a placebo.
Results were conclusive and showed no significant difference, as also concluded by nearly a dozen other similar studies from other respected institutions.
In one of the most prominent and notable examples; the University of Maryland infected volunteers with a cold virus and found that all of the volunteers developed colds with similar symptoms and durations regardless of whether they took Vitamin C or not. As a result, many medical advisory groups including FDA, AMA, and ADA do not recommend supplemental vitamin C to treat colds.
Conflicting reports or subtle nuances?
While studies haven’t shown efficacy of Vitamin C for preventing the common cold, researchers at University of Toronto did find that subjects taking vitamin C pills took approximately 30 fewer “sick days” when compared to those who did not supplement. According to the researchers, one possible explanation is that vitamin C reduces the severity of cold symptoms, a hypothesis which is still being debated.
However, additional evidence suggested that individuals who undergo highly stressful situations (ex: soldiers, professional athletes, and surgical patients), could receive an immune system boost from vitamin C. In one such study, subjects in a high-stress subgroup taking vitamin C supplements experienced a 50% reduction in incidence of the common cold.
What do we mean by bodily stress?
Common examples of bodily stress include injury or surgery.
During surgical intervention there is a rapid reduction in Vitamin C blood concentration. This reduction is believed to occur due to an increased oxidative rate and redistribution during healing.
Further, it's generally agreed that Vitamin C is needed for normal immune system functions, iron absorption, production of the collagen matrix, and acts like an antioxidant to protect cells from free radical damage. These are all critical processes in wound healing. Therefore, decreased Vitamin C levels becomes a significant issue during any type of healing from injury or surgery.
Due to its many biochemical functions, Vitamin C is considered not only an essential micronutrient for maintaining health, but also an important therapeutic supplement in a variety of clinical conditions; and in particular, stressful situations such as extreme athletics, surgical and injury processes.[1,2]
Why use Vitamin C during times of bodily stress?
Research looked at patients who underwent routine gastrectomy for gastric cancer and noticed that Vitamin C blood concentrations decreased post-operatively and remained significantly lower for seven days after surgery . This vitamin C deficiency was even more prevalent in patients who then had post-op complications.
Although normal baseline physiological functioning requires Vitamin C for optimal metabolism, it was shown that doses much higher than the recommended daily allowance may be needed to normalize plasma and tissue Vitamin C concentration in post-operative patients.
Simply put, when the body undergoes surgery or encounters injury, it requires greater amounts of certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, to maintain and optimize healing.
As the body cannot synthesize Vitamin C, the main source of Vitamin C is from consumption of fruits, vegetables and plant foods . However, intake of these foods to the level needed for optimal recovery is often impossible during periods of stress, such as during surgery or injury. Thus, it is often necessary to include nutrient supplementation as part of the injury or surgery recovery process.
Does Vitamin C aid recovery?
Yes! Vitamin C supplementation aids surgery and injury recovery and is highly recommended since it promotes healing by various mechanisms - including collagen formation, supporting the immune system, and acting as a tissue antioxidant and free-radical scavenger, among others.
Please note that relatively high doses of supplemental Vitamin C, combined with other trace elements, have been shown to dramatically accelerate wound healing, in some cases as much as 50%.
Further, Vitamin C can have additional impacts on other physiological functions. For example, Vitamin C supplementation may prevent post-operative complications such as atrial fibrillation [5,6]. One recent study showed that oral Vitamin C supplementation, in association with beta-blockers, is even more effective in preventing post-operative atrial fibrillation than beta-blockers alone [7, 8].
In 2016, a systematic review and meta analysis showed that there is even evidence that preoperative dosages of Vitamin C can be used as an adjunct for reducing postoperative morphine consumption! And that there is high-level evidence supporting perioperative Vitamin C supplementation for complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS I)  prevention after extremity surgery!
So clearly, Vitamin C has its uses in the recovery space. Just not for the prevention or curing of the common cold like many parents might think.
And the best part, is there is very little risk in Vitamin C supplementation!
Research in well-controlled sepsis, trauma and major burns clinical trials showed that high-doses of Vitamin C had clinical benefit with a nearly non-existent risk profile! 
So in conclusion...
There is very little downside to taking Vitamin C.
If you are exposed to stressful situations, such as surgery, injury, or generally going through physically stressful times (such as military duty, long work hours, or extreme physical training); Vitamin C should be a key part of your regiment to keep you healthy and performing well.
That said, don't expect to take a super dosage of Vitamin C at the onset of a cold and expect to be chipper the next day. Leave the school-made remedies on the shelf and rest, hydrate, and eat well like you know you're supposed to do!
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1. Philipson T, Snider J, Lakdawalla D, Stryckman B, Goldman D. Impact of Oral Nutritional Supplementation On Hospital Outcomes. Clinical Nutrition. 2013;32. doi:10.1016/s0261-5614(13)60017-5.
2. McWhirter JP, Pennington CR. Incidence and recognition of malnutrition in hospital. BMJ 1994;308(6934):945.
3. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population 2012, Executive Summary. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nutritionreport/pdf/exesummary_web_032612.pdf.
4. Fukushima R, Yamazaki E. Vitamin C requirement in surgical patients. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 2010;13(6):669-676.
5. National Institutes of Health. Vitamin C – Fact Sheet for Consumers. Available at https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/.
6. Akbarshahi H, et al. Perioperative nutrition in elective, gastrointestinal surgery – potential for improvement? Dig Surg 2008;25:165-174.
7. Akbarshahi H, et al. Perioperative nutrition in elective, gastrointestinal surgery – potential for improvement? Dig Surg 2008;25:165-174.
8. Eslami M, et al. Oral ascorbic acid in combination with beta-blockers is more effective than beta-blockers alone in the prevention of atrial fibrillation after coronary artery bypass grafting. Tex Heart Inst J 2007;34:268-274.
9. Chen, Suzan MD, Roffey, Darren M. PhD, Dion, Charles-Antoine BSc, Arab, Abdullah MD, Wai, Eugene K. MD, Effect of Perioperative Vitamin C Supplementation on Postoperative Pain and the Incidence of Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
10. Vitamin C supplementation in the critically ill patient Berger, Mette M.a; Oudemans-van Straaten, Heleen M. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: March 2015 - Volume 18 - Issue 2 - p 193–201
General Disclaimer: All information here is for educational purposes only and is not meant to cure, heal, diagnose nor treat. This information must not be used as a replacement for medical advice, nor can the writer take any responsibility for anyone using the information instead of consulting a healthcare professional. All serious disease needs a physician.