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As cold and flu season comes into full swing this winter, you may be reaching for that box of Emergen-C you keep stashed in the back of your cabinets.
Since its creation in 1978, Emergen-C has almost become a household name and is most commonly used in an attempt to prevent seasonal illnesses and alleviate related cold symptoms.
If you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the scoop: Emergen-C’s most popular product is its powdered vitamin mix that becomes a tasty fizzy drink when mixed with water.
Despite its prolific use as a cold and flu prevention and treatment, the company does not actually make any claims of this effect. Rather, it touts itself as an immune system support supplement.
But does it work?
Thanks to its high vitamin C and B content, we can say that the short answer is yes, but you should read the long answer below to understand exactly what’s in it, how it works, and to what extent it can actually support the immune system.
What Is Emergen-C and Does It Work?
Emergen-C is a powdered fizzy drink mix packed with high doses of vitamin C, B vitamins, electrolytes, and minerals that, today, is marketed as an immune-boosting supplement.
However, once upon a time, Emergen-C did claim that its product could reduce the risk of or even entirely prevent colds and flu. This led to a class-action lawsuit in 2013 in which the complaint alleged that these claims were misleading and were not based on scientific evidence.
As a result, the company no longer directly makes these kinds of health claims, but many consumers still use it with this intention.
To prevent any confusion, we want to be clear about one thing: there are no home remedies or dietary supplements that can completely prevent you from getting sick with the common cold or a certain flu strain.
Emergen-C contains about 1,000mg of vitamin C along with a number of other vitamins and nutrients that are clinically proven to have a positive effect on the immune system.
With this in mind, regular consumption of Emergen-C––or any vitamin C supplement for that matter––could potentially help reduce the duration of a cold or flu and, in combination with other therapeutic treatments, could help alleviate symptoms. However, it is unlikely to totally prevent illness.
As such, you should never solely rely on supplements to keep you healthy. Practicing good hygiene (e.g., washing hands, sneezing into your elbow), eating a healthy and varied diet, wearing masks, getting enough sleep, and avoiding going to work when sick are the most effective preventatives for keeping both you and others from becoming ill.
What Is in Emergen-C?
Emergen-C’s (legally correct) claim to fame is that it is a powerful immune support supplement.
So what’s inside this powder that makes Emergen-C so great?
One packet of Emergen-C contains:
|Amount Per Serving
|% Daily Value
|Folic Acid (B9)
|Pantothenic Acid (B5)
As mentioned, taking vitamin C as a dietary supplement can improve your immune function and comes with a variety of other health benefits.
Other nutrients, such as zinc and the B vitamin complex, can also support a healthy immune system––particularly vitamins B2 (riboflavin) and B6 (pyridoxine)––which Emergen-C contains at high daily value percentages.
Vitamin B12, only second to vitamin C in terms of its daily value percentage, is also shown to play a critically important role in the function of the immune system as an immunomodulator and may even have applications for the treatment of COVID-19.
How to Take Emergen-C
Emergen-C has several different product lines, with other Emergen-C varieties including:
- Daily Immune Support: The original 1,000mg vitamin C powder, which comes in 7 different flavors plus 750mg gummies or 1,000mg chewables.
- Immune+ Triple Action Powder or Gummies: This is a gummy product that uses an updated formula with an “algae-based beta-glucan.” The “triple action” is a combo of vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D.
- Crystals: No water needed. Like pop rocks but healthy…?
- Kidz: Emergen-C Kidz has a much smaller dose (250mg) that is appropriate for kids under the age of 14.
- Botanicals: A line of powders and gummies that use all-natural plant-based ingredients such as ashwagandha, ginger, elderberry, and turmeric.
Emergen-C recommends only taking one of their packets daily with 4 to 6 ounces of water and specifically advises against taking more than the recommended dose.
Since vitamin C is water-soluble, it cannot build up in our systems like fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamin D). As such, vitamin C is generally considered safe and non-toxic.
However, the upper limit of vitamin C is around 2,000mg. Any more than this, and you run into the possibility of an upset stomach and other digestive problems.
There are also other vitamins and minerals in this product to consider, and you don’t want to accidentally intake more than the daily allowance for some of these.
Who Should Not Take Emergen-C?
Since the main ingredient in Emergen-C is vitamin C, this product is generally considered a safe product to take.
However, due to its high dose of vitamin C, children under the age of 14 should not take this supplement. If you want to give your kiddo a boost of vitamin C as they head back to school or before the holidays, try Emergen-C Kidz instead.
Frequent intake of large doses of vitamin C can lead to issues for some individuals, such as upset stomach, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and, rarely, kidney stones.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding or take certain medications––barbiturates, chemotherapy drugs, nitrate medications, oral contraceptives and HRT, protease inhibitors, tetracycline, or blood thinners––you should speak with your healthcare provider first.
What Else Can Vitamin C Do?
Besides supporting our immune systems, vitamin C has many other health benefits, including:
- Better iron absorption: Vitamin C can be used in combination with iron to treat iron deficiency anemia and enhance iron absorption from non-heme (plant-based) sources.
- Powerful antioxidant properties: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that effectively scavenges free radicals that damage our cells and cause oxidative stress that can lead to inflammation and chronic health issues.
- Healthier skin: Topical vitamin C improves skin texture, promotes collagen production, reduces wrinkles, and reduces hyperpigmentation. Pro tip: try combining vitamin C serum with hyaluronic acid for extra hydration and supercharged skin healing.
With that said, we do want to caution against the assumption that just taking Emergen-C could deliver all of these health benefits.
It is almost always better to get your daily vitamins and nutrients from whole food sources rather than just vitamin C supplements.
Dietary sources of vitamin C also contain complementary vitamins and minerals that help us absorb and synthesize this essential nutrient.
How effective is Emergen-C?
Vitamin C has been heavily studied in recent years for its ability to boost immunity and reduce the duration of the common cold or flu. Emergen-C contains 1,000mg of vitamin C, which could be effective in supporting our immune system. However, this product should not be used as a crutch for bad habits. Getting good sleep, eating a healthy diet, avoiding stress, maintaining good hygiene (washing hands frequently), wearing masks when sick, and not going to work when sick will be more effective in preventing the spread and contraction of illnesses. Taking good care of our bodies is the first line of defense.
Does Emergen-C work when sick?
Vitamin C has been shown in some clinical studies to shorten the duration of respiratory illnesses. Because Emergen-C contains a high vitamin C content, the conclusion could be drawn that this product can help us feel better more quickly. However, Emergen-C is not a medication. If you are feeling very ill or have been sick for a long time (2 weeks or longer), see your doctor or go to urgent care.
Do immune-boosting supplements actually work?
Immune-boosting supplements can work as a support in addition to a healthy diet, regular exercise, good hygiene, good sleep, avoiding stress, etc. You cannot use them as a band-aid for bad habits and expect never to get sick. With that said, some individuals do experience a depletion of vitamins and minerals for one reason or another and may greatly benefit from supplementing with a product like Emergen-C or other vitamin complexes. In these cases, you may see a noticeable improvement in your immune function.