Does Emergen-C Really Work?

Since Emergen-C supplies nutrients that interact with your immune system, many people take it to fend off colds or other minor infections.

Here is an in-depth look at each of Emergen-C’s major ingredients to determine whether the contained vitamins and minerals really boost immunity and increase energy levels.

1. Vitamin C

Each serving of Emergen-C contains 1,000 mg of vitamin C, which is much more than the RDA of 90 mg per day for men and 75 mg per day for women (1, 3).

However, research is mixed on whether large doses of vitamin C can prevent or shorten the duration of colds or other infections.

One review found that taking at least 200 mg of vitamin C daily only reduced one’s risk of cold by 3% and its duration by 8% in healthy adults (4).

However, this micronutrient may be more effective for people under high levels of physical stress, such as marathon runners, skiers and soldiers. For these people, vitamin C supplements cut the risk of colds in half (4).

In addition, anyone who is deficient in vitamin C would benefit from taking a supplement, since vitamin C deficiency is linked to increased risk of infections (5, 6, 7).

Vitamin C likely has such effects due to accumulating inside various types of immune cells to help them fight infections. Keep in mind that research into vitamin C’s mechanisms is ongoing (8, 9).

2. B Vitamins

Emergen-C also holds many B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.

B vitamins are needed in order for our bodies to metabolize food into energy, so many supplement companies describe them as energy-boosting nutrients (10).

One of the symptoms of B vitamin deficiency is general lethargy, and correcting the deficiency is associated with improved energy levels (11).

However, it is unclear whether supplementing with B vitamins amplifies energy in people who are not deficient.

Certain deficiencies do harm your immune system. Insufficient levels of vitamins B6 and/or B12 can reduce the number of immune cells your body produces (12, 13).

Supplementing with 50 mg of vitamin B6 per day or 500 mcg of vitamin B12 every other day for at least two weeks has been shown to reverse these effects (14, 15, 16).

While studies indicate that correcting a B vitamin deficiency can boost immunity, more research is needed to understand whether supplementing has any effect on non-deficient, healthy adults.

3. Zinc

Some evidence suggests that taking zinc supplements can shorten the duration of a cold by an average of 33% (17).

This is because zinc is needed for the normal development and function of immune cells (18).

However, the amount of zinc in Emergen-C may not be enough to have these immune-boosting effects.

For example, one serving of regular Emergen-C contains just 2 mg of zinc, while clinical trials use much higher doses of at least 75 mg per day (17).

While the Immune Plus variety of Emergen-C gives a slightly higher dose of 10 mg per serving, this still falls short of the therapeutic doses used in research studies (19).

4. Vitamin D

Interestingly, many immune cells feature high numbers of vitamin D receptors on their surfaces, suggesting that vitamin D plays a role in immunity.

Several human studies have determined that supplementing with at least 400 IU of vitamin D daily can reduce your risk of developing a cold by 19%. It’s especially beneficial for people who are vitamin D deficient (20).

While original Emergen-C does not contain vitamin D, the Immune Plus variety boasts 1,000 IU of vitamin D per serving (17, 19).

Given that approximately 42% of the US population is deficient in vitamin D, supplementing may be beneficial for many people (21).

Summary There is some evidence that the ingredients in Emergen-C can improve immunity in people who are deficient in those nutrients, but more research is needed to determine whether similar benefits apply to non-deficient, healthy adults.

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Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and powerful antioxidant, and helps the body form and maintain connective tissue, including bones, blood vessels, and skin. Research also indicates that it may help protect against a variety of cancers by combatting free radicals and helping neutralize the effects of nitrites (preservatives found in some packaged foods that are believed to be carcinogenic).

Vitamin C is abundant in many fresh vegetables and fruits. The best food sources include citrus fruits, red peppers (both sweet and hot) and sweet potatoes. When obtained from food and supplements in the recommended dosages, vitamin C is generally regarded as safe. High doses aren’t known to cause serious side effects but can lead to diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps, and other gastrointestinal symptoms as well as heartburn, headache and insomnia.

Doses greater than 2,000 mg/day may contribute to the formation of kidney stones, but evidence for this is inconclusive.

For the record, I used to recommend taking 2,000 to 6,000 mg of vitamin C daily (in three divided doses). In 1999, I lowered my recommendation to 200 mg – 500 mg (in two divided doses) after reviewing two well-designed studies showing that this amount more than saturates the body’s tissues and is sufficient to help protect against cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses. One of the studies concluded that 200 mg a day is the maximum amount of vitamin C that human cells can absorb, making higher dosing on a daily basis pointless.

The second study came from the Linus Pauling Institute (Pauling himself famously took 18,000 mg of C per day) and was published in the June 1999 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It identified a similar dose, 120 to 200 mg, as the optimal amount for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, cataracts and other chronic conditions.

A number of drugs can affect vitamin C levels. These include birth control pills and aspirin. And some evidence suggests that large doses of vitamin C may block the action of blood thinning drugs such as warfarin (Coumadin) and distort the results of certain blood tests. (Be sure to tell your doctor about all the supplements you’re taking).

I now recommend taking 250 mg of vitamin C daily and increasing that by an extra 1,000 mg if you have a cold or flu; work in a smog-filled city; or live with a smoker. While taking 2,000 mg a day is unlikely to hurt you – since your body will eliminate the excess – the worst effect would likely be wasting your money.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Linus Pauling Institute, “Vitamin C.”

What Is Emergen-C and Does It Actually Work?

Photo: NBC / Contributor / Getty Images

Chances are, your parents’ go-to move is pouring a big ol’ glass of orange juice at the first sign of sniffles, while waxing poetic about vitamin C. With the belief that loading up on vitamin C is a surefire way to beat any bug, all now-adult millennials are guzzling its modern-day derivative: Emergen-C.

But what exactly is Emergen-C? And can it actually help you not get sick or get over your cold quicker? Here, experts dish everything you need to know.

What Is Emergen-C anyway?

For the uninitiated, Emergen-C is a brand of powdered vitamin supplements that you stir into water to drink. In recent years, they’ve released a Probiotic Plus blend, an Energy formula, and a Sleep supplement-but the brand’s OG product is Immune Support. (If you’ve never seen the insides of an Immune Support packet, it looks like the contents of orange Pixy Stix. When added to water, it tastes like fizzy, healthified orange soda).

As its name suggests, the hero-ingredient of Emergen-C Immune Support is vitamin C; each serving contains a whopping 1,000 mg, which is 1,667 percent of your recommended daily allowance (RDA). Beyond that, “the ingredients of Emergen-C are actually quite basic: a blend of vitamins, some electrolytes along with some sugar, artificial sweetener, and coloring,” says Elroy Vojdani, M.D., founder of Regenera Medical and a certified functional medicine practitioner.

The additional blend of vitamins in one serving of Emergen-C includes 10mg of vitamin B6, 25mcg of vitamin B12, 100mcg of vitamin B9, 0.5mcg of manganese (25 percent of your RDA), and 2mg of zinc. Plus, smaller amounts of phosphorus, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, chromium, sodium, potassium, and other B vitamins.

Does Emergen-C work?

There are no product-specific studies on Emergen-C or its effectiveness in preventing or curing the common cold. However, experts say that research looking at the specific ingredients in Emergen-C (mainly vitamin C and zinc) can help answer that question. (P.S. here are 10 easy ways to boost your immunity).

There’s been a ton of research done on the role of vitamin C in immune health-and, alas, the findings aren’t super conclusive. For instance, a 2013 review found that taking vitamin C supplements regularly had no effect on whether or not the general population got a cold, but that the nutrient may be beneficial for extreme exercisers and people with physically strenuous jobs. (FYI: Your high-intensity workouts may be compromising your immune system.) Another study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that taking a daily vitamin C supplement may reduce the frequency of catching a cold, but did not reduce the duration or severity of that cold.

So, while it may help keep you from getting sick, the common belief that ramping up your vitamin C intake can help you get over a cold faster is a myth.

That said, Dr. Vojdani says it’s still important to meet your recommended daily intake of vitamin C. “Vitamin C has been proven to help protect the body, and several cells of the immune system need vitamin C to perform their task and defend us against sickness.” Translation: Getting enough vitamin C is important, but getting 10 times the RDA isn’t going to magically make your immune system unstoppable.

What about the other ingredients in Emergen-C? One 2017 review linked zinc to faster recovery from cold symptoms when taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. Also, the electrolytes are beneficial for reducing symptoms of dehydration, which is common when you’re sick, says Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and a spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But the rest of the ingredients don’t play a role in immunity: “Beyond zinc and Vitamin C, there are no ingredients in Emergen-C that might influence sickness,” he says.

Are there any downsides to taking Emergen-C?

The short answer is: It depends. It is possible to have too much vitamin C. The most common symptoms of overdose are cramping and GI distress. Valdez says that some people may experience these symptoms with as little as 500 mg (remember, Emergen-C has 1,000mg).

The only people who need to worry about more serious side effects are those affected by sickle cell anemia and G6PD deficiency. “Large doses of vitamin C can actually be life-threatening to those individuals,” says Dr. Vojdani.

However, because Emergen-C contains far lower levels of all of the other vitamins and minerals, you won’t overdose from one packet, or even from a few packets while you’re sick, says Stephanie Long, M.D., F.A.A.F.D., a One Medical Provider. Because vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin,you’ll just pee out what your body can’t absorb-which will give your urine a funny odor but is generally considered NBD.

“If you follow the dosage instructions and only take Emergen-C for a short period of time, there’s very little risk of overdose,” agrees Valdez.

The verdict: Can it actually help you *not* get sick?

All three experts agree: If you want to boost your immunity, there are far better ways to do that than taking Emergen-C. (See: 5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System Without Medicine) But they agree that getting your recommended daily intake of vitamin C and zinc is a smart preventive measure.

“I recommend meeting the recommendation for vitamin C from food,” says Valdez. “If you’re getting vitamin C through food in a balanced way, then that’s even better because it has antioxidants that you may not otherwise obtain from supplements alone.” ICYDK: Citrus, red peppers, green pepper, Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, cantaloupe, broccoli, and cauliflower are all good dietary sources of vitamin C. Seafood, yogurt, and cooked spinach are great sources of zinc.

If you opt for a vitamin C supplement, just don’t consume more than the upper limit, which is 2,000mg per day, says Valdez. Dr. Vojdani recommends a vitamin C supplement in a form called liposomal, which he says allows for easier absorption into your bloodstream. Just remember: The FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, so products with third-party seals from the USP, NSF, or Consumer Labs are best. (See: Are Dietary Supplements Really Safe?)

And hey, you can always drink some OJ for old time’s sake.

  • By By Gabrielle Kassel

Does Emergen-C Really Work? Here’s How All That Vitamin C Affects Your Body

I will go to great lengths to avoid getting sick. From taking bee pollen capsules to soaking in an epsom salt bath, if someone I trust has told me that it could keep me totally healthy, I’ve probably given it a try. But I also care about scientific evidence for any supplements I put in my body, so when a friend swore by a fizzy powder for helping her ward off this winter’s cold season, I was immediately a bit skeptical. Does Emercen-C really work? While taking the immunity supplement won’t do your body any harm, it probably won’t keep the congestion and sniffles at bay, either.

The thing is, those little Emergen-C packets are definitely packed with tons of good-for-you nutrients, like calcium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, etc. To give you a bit more of an idea, in one serving of Emergen-C’s original flavor, you’ll get 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C (1,667 percent of your daily value), 10 milligrams of vitamin B6, (500 percent of your daily value), and 25 milligrams of vitamin B12 (417 percent of your daily value).

While all of these things certainly sound healthy, chugging a drink with the stuff doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll suddenly be strong enough to keep any germs from making you sick.


“Vitamin C can be helpful in boosting immunity, and there are antioxidants in Emergen-C that can help boost the immune system as well,” Albert Ahn, clinical instructor of internal medicine at NYU Langone Health, told The Cut. “There’s not a lot of great evidence to suggest that this will help treat a cold, but it can’t hurt, either.” As long as you take the recommended dose, he explained, it won’t harm you in any way, and there’s always a possibility that it could help get rid of a young cold.

However, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), taking a vitamin C supplement after you notice cold symptoms probably won’t do you much good. Your best bet is to make sure that you get plenty of the vitamin on a regular basis so that your immune system is strong to begin with, says the health agency. While high doses of vitamin C probably won’t lead to any serious side effects, taking too much of it could potentially lead to diarrhea, nausea, or abdominal cramps, as per the NIH, so you might want to give your body a break if your stomach starts acting up.

If you’re a marathoner, on the other hand, you might actually benefit from slightly bigger doses of vitamin C, according to William Curry, MD, professor of internal medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “There seems to be something about the combination of being really physically active and taking vitamin C that may be protective,” he told Health. A systematic review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews confirms this, with 29 trials (including more than 11,000 people) showing that “vitamin C may be useful for people exposed to brief periods of severe physical exercise,” such as marathon runners, skiers, and soldiers. For people who don’t have such a strenuous exercise routine, though, the review said the vitamin “is not justified” as a supplement to take in larger doses. Personally, I’m just going to keep eating all the clementines, but that’s just because I love them.


Look, if it gives you peace of mind to know that you’re getting enough vitamin C after a long day of traveling, or even just a long day of not eating a lot of fresh fruit or whole foods in general, then girl, have some Emergen-C. Seriously, it can’t hurt. But don’t forget that avoiding a cold really is as simple as washing your hands, getting enough rest, and keeping your distance from anyone who has the sniffles. These strategies won’t always be foolproof, but it’s the best possible way you can prepare.

What’s in it: Wellness Formula contains over 30 herb extracts, vitamins, and minerals to “support many different aspects of the immune system including T and B cell functions, natural killer cell activity, and respiratory tract health.” Among the ingredients are vitamins A, C, and D-3, zinc, garlic bulb, echinacea, astragalus root extract, ginger root extract, and cayenne fruit.

The backstory: Wellness Formula is manufactured by Source Naturals, which calls it “the nation’s number 1 power-packed immune defense formula.” To tap into the supplement’s purported benefits, however, users are advised to take a hefty dose; the manufacturer suggests 6 capsules twice daily “at the very first signs of imbalances in your well-being” and 2 to 4 capsules daily for “wellness maintenance.” The larger tablets require slightly less intense dosing: 3 tablets twice a day to alleviate imbalance, and 1 to 2 daily for maintenance.

The verdict: There isn’t much research on Wellness Formula specifically, but many of its ingredients, like echinacea and astragalus root, are recommended by some Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) providers. Some research suggests that echinacea can modestly reduce symptoms of the common cold if it’s taken at the first sign of symptoms, but other studies show no benefit (potentially due to the fact that different studies have used different types of the plant and varying methods of preparation). The ingredients in Wellness Formula generally don’t cause problems for most people, but it’s worth discussing the supplement with your provider if you plan to take it regularly.

Ultimately, the best way to boost your immune function is to live a healthy lifestyle. “Stick to the things we know work—get enough sleep, exercise, and eat a healthy diet,” says One Medical’s Malcolm Thaler, MD. “And if you really want to ward off colds, wash your hands with soap and water often during cold season.”

I woke up with a sore throat…then I kicked it’s arse…well, almost.

Phew, there’s nothing worse for a singer than waking up with a sore throat. I’m not talking about one of those hoarse voices from shouting or singing incorrectly. I’m talking about that turn of the season cold, with a raw throat and stuffy sinuses kind of sore throat. But, when I woke up in the middle of the night and realized the temperature was a wee bit cooler than usual, then I felt that tickling in my throat, I thought, “great, I don’t have time for this.”

Usually, I’d deal with it right then and there, but I decided to sleep on it. When I woke up (and I slept in late) it felt a little better, so I let it go. BIG MISTAKE! You MUST attack a sore throat head on, the minute it happens…I know better. Anyways, I went throughout the day, ignoring the tickle, slept with it again, woke up the next morning and felt terrible, wishing I would’ve gotten my butt out of bed at 4.00 a.m. a few night’s before and dealt with it immediately, but, too late, the damage was done. Still, being a vocal coach and a vocal health nut, I knew what I could do. So here’s a breakdown in order of what I did, the second morning after, in an attempt to knock that sore throat right out and prepare me for the day:

1. Emergen-C- I grabbed a bottle of water, dumped in two packets of Emergen-C mix and downed it. That vitamin C sure does kick some major arse when it comes to making a singer feel better..
2. Sinus Flush- I grabbed my trusty ole’ Neilmed Neti Pot, from which looks like a blue genie’s lamp, and pumped the saltwater mix through my nostrils. Worked like a charm. By the time I finished, my sinuses were finally opening and I could breathe again.

3. X20- I took a sachet of X20 from, added to a bottle of water, shook it up and drank up. Lots of good things in X20 to give your immune system a boost. Best of all, it does not flavor your water.

This was all to help begin cleaning out the garbage in my body that was affecting my throat, but like I said, you MUST hit it head on the minute you feel a cold or sore throat coming on. Even if I did do these three things the moment I noticed the tickle, it isn’t a magic formula to knock out a sore throat instantly, though I have had great success with it in the past. However, my throat did feel a bit better, but I knew the cold was stuck to me like glue and I’d have to see it out till the end.

Since I was in for the long haul, I kept drinking Emergen-C throughout the day, did another sinus flush, took some Zinc (the singer’s mineral) and made a cup of Throat Coat from Traditional Medicinals. And then my UPS guy showed up….I had ordered a four-pack of products from a company called Superior Vocal Health which is a new health product line for singers. I tried their Sinus Clear, Vocal Rescue, and Throat Saver all in one shot, and let me tell you, phewww that stuff has some bite! I’ve NEVER tried a vocal health product that smacked my voice around like Mike Tyson. But it worked! The Sinus Clear opened me up even more, the Throat Saver gave me back some sense of non-dryness, and the Vocal Rescue gargle, instantly, and I mean INSTANTLY got rid of my sore throat. It was amazing!

So now I can say I am a fan of these new vocal products. Being me, I called the company to learn more about their products. They discussed the herbs with me and I realized why they were working so fast. I became such a fan that I offered to endorse them. In fact, if you want to try out their products and you order their 3-Pack or their 4-Pack, I am offering $80.00 off of my Ultimate Vocal Workout for the 3-Pack, as well as doing a monthly drawing for 4-Pack purchaser for one person to win a free Ultimate Vocal Workout and another to win a free Skype lesson. So check out the site today!

NOTE: You MUST enter the code VENDERA upon checkout to receive these discounts/bonuses.

In closing, I’m not saying this is THE formula to knock out a sore throat. We are all different and there are many combinations that can help, but this one worked like a charm for me. So if you ever wake up with a sore throat, try some of my ideas, it might just work. If you need more and I mean LOTS more vocal health info, check out my book Raise Your Voice Second Edition from the Ultimate Vocal Workout page. To learn more about the Superior Vocal Health line, read an interview with SVH creator David Katz.

Should I take vitamin C or other supplements for my cold?

Many people take vitamin C supplements in hope it will treat their cold. Credit: .com

Last week, I had a shocking cold. Blocked nose, sore throat, and feeling poorly. This made me think about the countless vitamins and supplements on the market that promise to ease symptoms of a cold, help you recover faster, and reduce your chance of getting another cold.

When it comes to the common cold (also called upper respiratory tract infections) there is no magic cure (I wish) but some supplements may deliver very minor improvements. Here is what the latest research evidence says.

Vitamin C

For the average person, taking vitamin C does not reduce the number of colds you get, or the severity of your cold.

In terms of how long your cold lasts, some studies have looked at people taking vitamin C every day, while others have focused on participants taking it once they develop a cold.

In 30 studies comparing the length of colds in people regularly taking at least 200 milligrams of vitamin C daily, there was a consistent reduction in the duration of common cold symptoms.

However, the effect was small and equates to about half a day less in adults, and half to one day less in children. These types of studies also found a very minor reduction in the amount of time needed off work or school.

Among studies where vitamin C was only started once a cold had developed, there was no difference in duration or severity of a cold.

There are some risks to taking vitamin C supplements. They can increase the risk of kidney stones in men, and shouldn’t be taken by people with the iron storage disease haemochromatosis, as vitamin C increases iron absorption.

Special considerations

Although in the general population vitamin C has no impact on the number of colds people get, there is an exception. For people who are very physically active – such as marathon runners, skiers and soldiers exercising in very cold conditions – vitamin C halved their chance of getting a cold.

A few studies have also found some benefit from vitamin C supplements of at least 200 milligrams a day for preventing colds among those with pneumonia.

However, taking vitamin E supplements in combination with a high intake of vitamin C from food markedly increased the risk of pneumonia.


A review of studies testing zinc supplements in healthy adults found starting daily supplements of at least 75 milligrams within 24 hours of the onset of a cold shortened the duration by up to two days or by about one-third. It made no difference to the severity of the cold.

There was some variability in the results across trials, with insufficient evidence related to preventing colds. Researchers suggested that for some people, the side effects such as nausea or a bad taste from zinc lozenges might outweigh the benefits.

Take care to stop zinc supplements as soon as your cold resolves because taking too much zinc can trigger a copper deficiency leading to anaemia, low white blood cell count, and memory problems.


Only one study has tested the impact of garlic on the common cold. Researchers asked 146 people to take garlic supplements or a placebo daily for 12 weeks. They then tallied the number and duration of their colds.

The group that took garlic reported fewer colds than those who took the placebo. The duration of colds was the same in both groups, but some people had an adverse reaction to the garlic, such as a rash, or found the garlic odour unpleasant.

Because there is only one trial, we need to be cautious about recommending garlic to prevent or treat colds. We also need to be cautious about interpreting the results because the colds were tracked using self-report, which could be biased.


In a review of 13 trials of probiotic supplements that included more than 3,700 children, adults and older adults, those taking supplements were less likely to get a cold.

Their colds were also likely to be of shorter duration and less severe, in terms of the number of school or work days missed.

Most supplements were milk-based products such as yoghurt. Only three studies used powders, while two used capsules.

The quality of the all the probiotic studies, however, was very poor, with bias and limitations. This means the results need to be interpreted with caution.


Echinacea is a group of flowering plants commonly found in North America. These days you can buy echinacea products in capsules, tablets or drops.

A review of echinacea products found they provide no benefit in treating colds. However, the authors indicated some echinacea products may possibly have a weak benefit, and further research is needed.

Chicken soup

Yep, I’ve saved the best until last.

In a novel experiment on 15 healthy adults, researchers measured the participants’ nasal mucus flow velocity – our ability to break down and expel mucus to breathe more clearly. They tested how runny participants’ noses were after sipping either hot water, hot chicken soup or cold water, or sucking them through a straw.

Sipping hot water or chicken soup made participants’ noses run more than cold water, but sipping chicken soup worked the best. The researchers attributed this to the chicken soup stimulating smell and/or taste receptors, which then increased nasal mucus flow.

Another study on chicken soup found it can help fight infection and recovery from respiratory tract infections.

Other researchers have shown comfort foods, such as chicken soup, can help us feel better.

Explore further

Do home remedies for the common cold really work? Provided by The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Citation: Should I take vitamin C or other supplements for my cold? (2018, August 6) retrieved 1 February 2020 from This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

I don’t love being sick, but I do love the first few hours of suspicion that I might be getting sick: the period in which I still feel well enough to do everything I’d normally do, but with the added enjoyment of tremendous self-pity. It is during this window of time that I will focus on damage control, attempting to minimize the actual sickness part as much as possible, in hopes I will feel just bad enough to stay home and watch TV all day, but not so bad that I am not better within 24 hours. Aside from nearly drowning myself from the inside out with gallons of water, my main tactic in cold minimization is to take Emergen-C two to four times a day.

There is something so delightfully retro about consuming medicines and supplements in the form of powder mixed into liquid, which is only part of the reason I love Emergen-C. I also love the radioactive orange taste and color, and the sense of superiority I feel drinking it — the feeling that I am taking control of my destiny, determined to muscle through my routine illness with little to no complaint. I am of the opinion that otherwise healthy people with colds get exactly two hours of external sympathy, and no more. You can spread them out, or spend them all at once, but what you do not get to do is be an adult who acts like the world is ending because you have the sniffles.

I don’t get sick often, and when I do, it doesn’t last very long, and though I’d like to give full credit to my natural immune system, I’ve long assumed that my Emergen-C consumption has something to do with it. I know vitamin C supplements — like all nutritional supplements — are largely useless. But Emergen-C feels different from taking an ordinary, boring vitamin C pill. It’s 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C, the equivalent, so they say, of ten oranges! Ten!

The good news Albert Ahn, clinical instructor of internal medicine at NYU Langone Health, has for me is that my Emergen-C consumption (probably) isn’t hurting me, and may in fact do some good — if not in the way I’ve long believed. “Vitamin C can be helpful in boosting immunity, and there are antioxidants in Emergen-C that can help boost the immune system as well,” says Ahn. “There’s not a lot of great evidence to suggest that this will help treat a cold, but it can’t hurt, either. It may not give you a lot of benefit but it’s not going to hurt if you take the appropriate dose.”

It has been my years-long understanding that Emergen-C is meant to be taken at the “first sign” of a cold in order to shorten the duration (and lessen the severity) of one’s illness, but Ahn tells me that’s not really a thing. “Once you’ve gotten sick already, your immune system is already compromised,” he says. “At that point, the only thing left is to supportively care for the cold. There’s really nothing that’s going to magically make it go away.” That means drinking lots of fluids, eating well (and eating enough), and resting, says Ahn — all the normal, boring, regular healthy habits we’re supposed to do all the time anyway.

I could have sworn that “take at the first sign of a cold” was part of Emergen-C’s stated directive, but it seems that was a problematic claim made by the comparable product Airborne, for which they were sued. The claims on Emergen-C’s website are accordingly modest, and the page for my preferred variety — Super Orange — claims only that consuming it might help make your day … “super.”

Ahn tells me that zinc supplements, on the other hand, might be able to limit a cold’s potency, but it’s no sure bet. “There is some very limited evidence to say that taking high doses of zinc in the first 24 hours of the common cold can help decrease the severity and the length of symptoms,” he says. He advises against taking intranasal forms of zinc, though, as it’s been known to alter one’s senses of smell, possibly irreversibly.

Emergen-C, too, can be overdone. “A lot of people say, well, if 1,000 milligrams is good, 2,000 is better, and 5,000 may be best,” says Ahn. “But taking too-high doses of vitamin C can definitely cause some problems — like diarrhea and cramping.” When used as a daily supplement on top of a well-balanced diet, and adequate sleep, Emergen-C can be a fine tool in one’s cold prevention arsenal, says Ahn — even if the benefit is mostly mental. “I can’t promise that you’re not going to get sick, and I can’t promise it’s going to make a difference, but for a lot of people, if it makes them feel a little bit better, I tell them go ahead,” he says. And, blessed with that very tepid medical encouragement, I will.

Emergency drink for colds

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