Vitamin C supplementation and the common cold--was Linus Pauling right or wrong?

Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 1997;67(5):329-35.


In 1970 Linus Pauling claimed that vitamin C prevents and alleviates the episodes of the common cold. Pauling was correct in concluding from trials published up till then, that in general vitamin C does have biological effects on the common cold, but he was rather over-optimistic as regards the size of benefit. His quantitative conclusions were based on a single placebo-controlled trial on schoolchildren in a skiing camp in the Swiss Alps, in which a significant decrease in common cold incidence and duration in the group administered 1 g/day of vitamin C was found. As children in a skiing camp are not a representative sample of the general population, Pauling's extrapolation to the population at large was too bold, erring as to the magnitude of the effect. Nevertheless, Pauling's general conclusion that vitamin C has physiological effects on the common cold is of major importance as it conflicts with the prevailing consensus that the only physiological effect of vitamin C on human beings is to prevent scurvy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ascorbic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Common Cold / epidemiology
  • Common Cold / physiopathology
  • Common Cold / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Ascorbic Acid