Vitamin C supplements have become popular for seasoned travelers and patients suffering from the common cold alike. Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is commonly found in energy supplements, multivitamins, and nutritional supplements over the counter. Vitamin C plays an important role in how the human body absorbs iron, forms collagen, and heals wounds and burns. Vitamin C is also classified as an antioxidant, which means that in doses of 500mg-1000mg/day, it may prevent or shorten the duration of the common cold.
Vitamin C is approved by the FDA in treatment of scurvy, which is uncommon in the United States. Vitamin C finds its most common use as an immune system supplement, and pharmacists can aid their clients by educating them on the variety of OTC multivitamins and supplements available that contain Vitamin C during cold and flu season. A 2010 analysis of 29 clinical trials reported that those who took Vitamin C daily did not decrease their chances of getting a cold, though the cold’s duration was considerably shortened.
Over the counter powdered energy supplements (such as Emergen-C) can be beneficial for clients that do not enjoy swallowing pills. These vitamin supplements are mildly carbonated when added to water, and come in a variety of flavors. Airborne tablets are effervescent vitamin C tablets which customers can also add to their water. There are Vitamin C lozenges which are also available and marketed by brands such as Halls, Sunkist, and a variety of natural and homeopathic lozenge options available. Some Vitamin C lozenges may also contain zinc, which has been known to also aid in dampening the effects of the common cold.
If a client is a smoker, they may require more Vitamin C to experience relief from their cold symptoms. Smokers may require up to 35mg more Vitamin C per day than non-smokers, due to the body’s use of Vitamin C to repair free radical damage caused by smoking. Individuals whose food intake does not include adequate sources of Vitamin C may also need a higher dose of Vitamin C than otherwise healthy individuals taking the supplement. Those with malabsorption problems and renal failure may also have to have their dosage of Vitamin C adjusted.
Vitamin C overdose can cause nausea, stomach cramps, and gastrointestinal distress. Patients with diabetes should be cautioned by their pharmacist against beginning a long term Vitamin C regime. Potential drug interactions can be screened for, and patients should be instructed by their pharmacists to adhere to the recommended product dosage. Pharmacists can build a display highlighting their Vitamin C supplements where space is available, and offer literature and brochures on tips for treating the common cold at registers. The variety of OTC Vitamin C supplements is greater than ever, and by working together, pharmacists and clients can ensure optimal health this cold season.