Many people swear by immune system supplements like Emergen-C and Airborne to ward off colds and bolster them for germ traps like airplanes.
The little chalk tablets are chocked full of nutrients and ingredients with names that sound like biochemical wizardry – some of which are dietary components needed to maintain immune system health.
But, ultimately, it’s just a multivitamin in fizzy form, and studies have found that taking it may shorten your cold – but it’s unlikely to keep you from catching one.
Daily Mail Online breaks down the ingredients that make up Emergen-C – and why none of them are likely to stop you from catching a cold this winter.
Emergen-C and other immune system-boosting tablets contain many vitamins associated with the immune system, but studies show they at best shorten colds – but don’t prevent them
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE COMMON COLD, AND HOW DO WE FIGHT IT BETTER?
To understand how to fight off a cold, we first have to know what we and Emergen-C are up against.
Over 200 kinds of viruses can cause the loose web of symptoms – congestion, runny nose, coughing, sneezing and sometimes a fever – that we call the common cold.
When the body detects an invading virus, antibodies rush to the virus cells, halting their ability to multiply and tagging them to make them recognizable to white blood cells, which come to try to diffuse, expel and try to memorize the identity of the virus, in case it should ever come back.
These are all functions of the immune system, so having a strong one is crucial to fighting off infection.
Poor nutrition and nutrient deficiences will certainly hamper the immune system’s functioning, but it is made up of many complex components.
So even if you do boost your levels of nutrients key to maintaining your immune system, there is no proof that doing so will make an adult’s body fight off a virus that is already attacking you.
There are many different cell types involved in the immune system, and the best ‘diet’ for one type is not necessarily right for the others and we just don’t have the whole equation for nutrition and optimal immunity worked out fully.
So, while the laundry list of vitamins nutrients and other substances an Emergen-C tablet may be linked to immune system health, chugging a glass of them is not a direct boost to overall immunity.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN NUTRIENTS IN EMERGEN-C – AND WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO DO WITH FIGHTING A COLD?
1. VITAMIN C – 250MG
Vitamin C is is food to several different kinds of immunity cells, including T cells, which (in their various sub-forms) can spot a foreign body, turn on fighter cells and quiet the immune response when a threat has passed.
A deficiency will contribute to a lower-functioning immune system, but research on vitamin C has shown that while higher intake may help to shorten the duration of a cold, it won’t prevent you from getting one.
And what’s more, the body can only absorb about 180mg of vitamin C a day. After that, you lose 50 percent of your intake in urine. Super-dosing yourself with vitamin C simply won’t add much if any benefit beyond eating a balanced diet.
2. B VITAMINS 1, 2,3, 6, 9 AND 12 –
B vitamins are responsible for certain antigens that recognize infection.
Animals that don’t get enough of these do show immunodeficiencies – but the same thing hasn’t been demonstrated in people.
Plus, B vitamins are found in sufficient proportions in many different foods, including broccoli, whole grains, meats, eggs, seeds, nuts and some fruits that should feature in a balanced diet anyway.
And a single tablet of Emergen-C contains as much as 500 percent of the recommended daily intake of B vitamins (in the case of B6).
It’s difficult to overdose on any of the B vitamins, but long-term over-intake can eventually cause nerve damage.
But, as is the case with vitamin C, consuming more B vitamins than your body needs just means peeing more B vitamin metabolites.
3. CALCIUM – 48MG
Calcium is mostly known for its benefits for bone health and strength.
It does, however, have a secondary effect on the immune system by helping to boost T cell multiplication by helping these infection fighters process more sugar.
But the New York University research that uncovered this was done in animals that were genetically modified.
We know that it also makes sure our bodies are are optimized to absorb as much vitamin C as possible. But, again, these are all complex interplays that require a balanced, consistent diet, rather than a single, powerful shot of nutrients.
4. PHOSPHOROUS – 38MG
Like calcium, phosphorous aids in making other immune system-involved nutrients more available to the body.
Phosphorous acts like a maintenance machine, keping the delicate balance of vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, iodine, magnesium and zinc.
It also encourages bone health, as does calcium.
If you were entirely unable to absorb phosphorous, it might have problematic consequences for your immune system.
However, consuming a high dose of it alongside super-high doses of some of the other nutrients in Emergen-C will not necessarily establish the ‘balance’ required in optimal immune system functions.
5. MAGNESIUM – 55MG
We know that magnesium facilitates several different kinds of immune responses – when it is present in a balanced proportion with other nutrients.
So far, however, we don’t know too much more than that for certain.
Magnesium seems to get depleted with physical exercise, and that in turn seems to exhaust the immune system quite quickly.
This suggests that diets with plenty of magnesium may help athletes and elderly people keep their immune systems up if it is going to be compromised at all.