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Q. Does vitamin C really prevent colds?
Dr. Marianne Legato: Numerous studies found that vitamin C does ease the intensity of such cold symptoms as muscle aches, a runny nose, and a cough by about 23 percent. Vitamin C has also been shown to shorten a cold's duration by anywhere from a few days to a week. Whether it prevents colds has been harder to establish. Although most research shows it doesn't, one randomized study did find that ultramarathoners -- whose immune systems tend to be weaker after a race -- who downed 600 milligrams of vitamin C daily didn't catch as many colds as runners who didn't take any at all.
Here's my recommendation: It can't hurt to take a daily vitamin C supplement, particularly if you tend to catch colds. If you do come down with a cold, it's probable that you'll recover faster and not be as bothered by symptoms. Taking 200 milligrams is enough (despite what the marathoners did) since any extra is excreted in urine. Though orange juice is rich in C, don't rely on it. Vitamin C content can vary widely, depending on the oranges used and how long the juice has been in the carton.
Marianne Legato, MD, medical adviser to Ladies' Home Journal, is the founder and director of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, January 2006.
Do you have a health question, concern, or worry? E-mail your questions to Dr. Legato at AskDrLegato@lhj.com, and the answer (but not your name) may be featured in an upcoming issue of Ladies' Home Journal or on LHJ.com.