In 1971, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling published Vitamin C and the Common Cold, disseminating a misconception that would soon become “conventional wisdom” to many. In the book, Pauling suggested a “regular ingestion of an adequate amount of ascorbic acid” totaling about 200 times more than the recommended daily allowance (4).
One year later, Alacer Corporation emerged, the creators of Emergen-C—a wildly popular powdered vitamin supplement. The company now offers over 10 flavors of the powder with different vitamin doses and specialties. Yet, in 2006, the company settled a lawsuit for false advertising that docked them $6.5 million, according to TIME magazine. The lawsuit unveiled false-advertising on the part of Alacer, saying (and proving) that they falsely claimed that their product was “the cure for the common cold.” This was a significant step in changing the public’s misconception, because it was a highly watched news piece that brought to light scientific evidence surrounding the myth of Vitamin C’s role in common cold prevention.
Recent scientific studies have proven that ascorbic acid does not cure the common cold. One piece of research references over 20 clinical studies, showing that the intake of ascorbic acid did nothing to remedy cold symptoms nor stop colds from forming in the first place (3). In fact, according to the work, “there’s very little evidence that mega doses of Vitamin C are good for anything” and that it’s “one of the greatest hoaxes ever played on the American public.” Alacer later hired Pauling on as a consultant and used his public clout to further their product line.
Although the mass (and perhaps corrupted) perpetuation of the Vitamin C misconception is nothing to sneeze at, common cold delusions are as common as the cold itself. The idea that colds are caused by wet hair or not wearing a jacket in low temperatures is a typical error that was proven incorrect by numerous studies. The only way to contract a cold is by germs, specifically rhinovirus, through respiratory media (2).
While scientific research is important, the most important part of changing public perception is getting the research to the public. For that reason, news stories such as Alacer’s settlement play huge roles in righting misconceptions and changing the beliefs of society. Without these media stories, the majority of the public would never know about the research. A socioeconomic emphasis should be placed on investigative journalism to oust scientific inconsistencies (among other inconsistencies, i.e. moral, political, etc.) and bring these facts to the eyes of public opinion.
1. Gunnars, Kris. “Does Vitamin C Help With Colds – Fact or Fiction?” RSS 20. N.p., 02 Jan. 2013. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.
2. Keeley, Page, email@example.com. “Confronting Common Folklore: Catching A Cold.” Science & Children 50.1 (2012): 24-26. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 15 Feb. 2016.,
3. Linda, Wertheimer. “The Vitamin C Myth.” Morning Edition (NPR) (n.d.): Newspaper Source. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.
4. Pauling, Linus. “The Significance of the Evidence about Ascorbic Acid and the Common Cold.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 1971: 2678. JSTOR Journals. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.
5. van der Lans, Anouk A. J. J., et al. “Cold Acclimation Affects Immune Composition In Skeletal Muscle Of Healthy Lean Subjects.” Physiological Reports 3.7 (2015): 1. Publisher Provided Full Text Searching File. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.