Science Questions

Are high doese of vitamin C useful?

Sun, 6th Jan 2008

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Philip Chew, USA asked:

Vitamin C: Some scientists believe itís the panacea for everything and other scientists seem to think the effects of vitamin C [presumably this is large doses] are negligible. Whatís the general scientific gist of it?


Chris and Kat discussed this on the show...

Chris: Linus Paulin who got the Nobel Prize in Chemistry used to take mega doses vitamin C and he did live to be in his 90s but then so do lots of people who donít take mega doses of vitamin C. People have done clinical trials on this to see if taking vitamin C does translate into better health. The evidence is that if you are vitamin C deficient and you get scurvy, thatís very bad, but you donít need very much vitamin C in order not to get scurvy. Scurvyís incredibly rare in the population now. Warding off scurvyís probably not a good enough reason to take mega doses of vitamin C. In terms of warding off coughs and colds and things there have been a number of trials and the only one that really showed any major benefit was in Scandinavian cross-country skiers who took big doses of vitamin C. They found that with severe exercise they were slightly lower risk of catching a virus of some kind if they took the vitamin C compared with when they didnítí Probably, because youíre exposed to harsh conditions, cold air, your airways are getting very dried out perhaps the vitamin C helps to ward off the damage to your airways caused by those conditions and therefore reduces the risk of the airways becoming vulnerable to viral attack. Under normal circumstances I havenít found any evidence that people are better protected if they take vitamin C.

Kat: There was also a paper I think about a year or so ago that showed actually if you take vitamin supplements youíre more likely to die.

Chris: There was one showing that vitamin E. Everyone put themselves on vitamin E thinking, Ďbecause this dissolves in fat perhaps it will reduce the rate at which arteries get clogged up by reducing cholesterol.í When cholesterol is oxidised itís more likely to block up arteries. If you take something that dissolves in fats and hence is close to the cholesterol (vitamin E) perhaps that will stop it. People who are on vitamin E started to have more heart attacks than people who werenít so not very good news.


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