There are better ways to give your immune system a boost.

By Corey Williams
Updated March 13, 2020
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With COVID-19 (the coronavirus) on everyone’s mind, it’s tempting to do whatever you can to boost your immunity—like guzzling Emergen-C. However, vitamin C supplements shouldn’t be your first line of defense. Here’s why:

What Is Emergen-C and What Is It Used For?

Emergen-C is a line of vitamin supplements that are meant to boost your immune system.

There are dozens of vitamin-rich products in the line—from chewables to gummies—but you’re likely most familiar with the effervescent powdered drink mix.

With flavors like Super Orange, Pink Lemonade, and Raspberry, the supplements are meant to support your immune system in a tasty way.

Emergen-C Ingredients

Credit: the_burtons/Getty Images

the_burtons/Getty Images

As its name suggests, Emergen-C’s main ingredient is vitamin C. Essential to maintaining healthy immune function, vitamin C is necessary for the growth, development, and repair of all the tissues in your body.

Other vitamins in the supplement include zinc (which increases production of infection-fighting white blood cells), vitamin E (an antioxidant that supports immune function), manganese (which helps prevent infection), and tons of immune-boosting B vitamins.

One packet of Emergen-C Everyday Immune Support includes:

  • 1,000 mg Vitamin C (1,667% of your recommended daily allowance)
  • 10 mg of vitamin B-6 (500% of your RDA)
  • 25 mcg of vitamin B-12 (417% of your RDA)
  • 100 mcg of vitamin B-9 (25% of your RDA)
  • 0.5 mcg of manganese (25% of your RDA)
  • 2 mg of zinc (13% of your RDA)

Does It Really Work?

The jury’s still out. While plenty of people swear by it (the tablets have a near perfect rating on Walmart.com), there hasn’t been enough research into whether Emergen-C and other vitamin C supplements are effective at preventing or treating infectious illnesses.

In fact, one study of vitamin C supplements’ effect on the common cold found that regularly taking the supplements didn’t stop most participants from getting a cold (but it did significantly reduce the risk in people exposed to short periods of extreme physical stress).

Other studies produced similar results, though some found that regular zinc consumption may slightly reduce the duration of the cold.

Granted, these studies involved Emergen-C ingredients—not the product itself.

A 2013 lawsuit against the manufacturer (Alacer Corporation) alleged that the company was misleading the public by claiming the product would provide health benefits without scientific evidence. According to the $6.45 million settlement, some consumers who purchased Emergen-C products between 2006 and 2012 were eligible for a refund.

Emergen-C’s website states that the “products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

Emergen-C Side Effects

If you’re taking Emergen-C, it’s important to stick to the recommended dosage on the packet.

Consuming too much vitamin C can cause unpleasant side effects like diarrhea and stomach upset. Meanwhile, too much vitamin B6 or zinc can result in nerve damage or copper deficiency.

Emergen-C For Kids

An packet of regular Emergen-C (which contains 1000 mg of vitamin C) may pack too much of a punch for children. However, Emergen-C Kidz, which contains only 250 mg of vitamin C, is available at most places the supplement is sold.

Talk to your pediatrician before introducing a new supplement into your child’s diet.

Can Pregnant Women Take It?

If you’re pregnant, consult with your OBGYN before taking any supplement. What’s right for one person may not be right for another.

Other Ways to Boost Immunity

WATCH: Foods That Boost Immunity

While taking Emergen-C or similar supplements may temporarily boost your immune system (and may make you feel better), they certainly shouldn’t be your first line of defense against the cold, flu, COVID-19, or any other illness.

You can keep your immune system in fighting shape by eating a balanced diet rich with fruit and vegetables and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Of course, the best way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases is to wash your hands regularly and to avoid contact with people who may be sick.