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msnbc.com contributor
updated 11/16/2009 6:41:11 PM ET 2009-11-16T23:41:11

If you’re cutting back on the heat this winter to save money, you might want to load up on vitamin C.

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Researchers have found that vitamin C can help stave off colds among people exposed to chilly temperatures — as well as people who exercise a lot.

Studies that included marathon runners, skiers and soldiers working in frigid weather found that vitamin C could cut the risk of the common cold by 50 percent.

The studies were part of an extensive review of research on the vitamin C and the common cold by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international not-for-profit organization that scrutinizes health care data on a variety of topics.

The Cochrane authors found several studies of marathon and ultra-marathon runners demonstrating that vitamin C could protect against the common cold. The information on the vitamin’s impact on people in frigid conditions came from a Canadian government study on soldiers.

Researchers have also shown that high doses of the vitamin — 200 mg/day or more — can lessen the severity and shorten the duration of cold symptoms. The gain is only a day or so, though.

Vitamin C has been shown to tune up part of the immune system in animal experiments. The vitamin has also been shown to slow virus reproduction in test tubes.

But no one’s been able to prove that power carries over to the human body under typical conditions, which is what really counts, says Dr. David Blandino, a clinical associate professor of family medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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