Thursday 8 February 2018

Is Emergen-C Good for You?

Emergen-C is the gold standard in OTC cold prevention, but how good for you is it, really?
If you look at the ingredients list, Emergen-C appears to be a superboosted multivitamin. It is loaded with vitamin C, B6 and B12, along with a smattering of other vitamins and minerals in lesser quantities. But is it as effective as the marketing would have you believe? Are there any downsides to supplemental cold/flu products like Emergen-C? Let’s dig in, shall we? First of all…


Each packet of Emergen-C contains about a teaspoon of added sugar in the form of inactive ingredients. The first two inactive ingredients in Emergen-C are fructose and maltodextrin. Both of these ingredients are inflammatory in the body and can cause blood sugar levels to spike. Fructose can be difficult to digest and easily converted into fat. 
I know Mary Poppins was a fan of taking sugar with her medicine, but take it with some raw honey or blackstrap molasses—something with nutritional value. Drinking inflammatory sugars like fructose and maltodextrin are only adding on to the problems a cold-fighting body has to address. (Anti-bonus: maltodextrin is made from starches like corn and wheat and is often genetically-modified. Emergen-C doesn’t try to hide the fact that their suppliers aren’t forced to adhere to any sort of GMO standards, although they do very openly address it.)


Whether or not ingesting high levels vitamin C is therapeutic in fighting a cold is hotly debated. But even more importantly in this case, however, is the debate about whether synthetic vitamins are as viable as natural. The vitamin C stuffed into Emergen-C packets is not whole food-derived. It is synthetic. In animal studies, synthetic forms of vitamin C have been shown to be less bioavailable than natural forms, although many human studies have shown no difference. Is your body actually absorbing all that excess synthetic vitamin C? Maybe some of it, but…


Yes, vitamin C is important for proper immune system function, but it is possible to consume too much. Adults generally need a little under 100mg of vitamin C each day to function. According to the Journals of the American Medical Association, human cells can only absorb up to 200 mg of vitamin C each day. So, that extra thousand or two that you’re getting in a couple packets of Emergen-C is probably just getting peed out.
But high consumption of vitamin C isn’t always that innocuous. The Institute of Medicinerecommends no more than 2000mg daily if you’d like to avoid unwanted side effects. Studies have shown that overconsumption of supplemental vitamin C may cause nausea, excess iron absorption, diarrhea, as well as other more serious conditions like kidney stones and cardiovascular disease. Do yourself a favor and opt for reasonable moderation.


If you take vitamin C prematurely, it actually can slightly shorten the duration of a cold (by about 8 to 10 percent), but if you’re already sick, don’t bother. Studies have shown that while vitamin C supplementation can help reduce illness specifically in athletes who exercise in cold conditions, the average person isn’t going to see much benefit if they already have the sniffles. Your best bet is to make sure you are getting your RDA of vitamin C year-round rather than binging once you feel a cold coming on.
If you enjoy taking Emergen-C, by all means, do your thing. Emergen-C is not unhealthy, per se. It contains loads of important B vitamins and a spectrum of other nutrients. Plus, if something makes you feel better when you’re sick, even if it is just the placebo effect, it’s worth doing. But Emergen-C is also not a necessary part of a healthy, immune-supportive lifestyle.
If you ask me, you’re better off spending your money on fresh, vitamin-rich fruits and veggies than on Emergen-C. The natural, whole food approach is always the gold standard. Try drinking a few more fresh green juices loaded with kale, orange and spirulina during cold and flu season and you’ll feel infinitely more nourished and energized than you would from drinking a fizzy fake orange drink.

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