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.

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“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.

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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.