A common misunderstanding is that Vitamin C, by itself, is effective to fortify the immune system. While Vitamin C does provide several immune benefits, being a preventative is not one of them. It does however assist the immune system and provides many other benefits to keep you healthy and support your immune system.
What is Vitamin C
Vitamin C — also known as ascorbic acid — is a water-soluble vitamin found in an abundant number of vegetables and fruits, primarily citrus fruits, but can also be consumed via dietary supplements.
This micronutrient plays an important role in several vital body functions, which is why it needs to be consumed daily. These include keeping bones strong, aiding in healing, helps in iron absorption, functioning as an antioxidant, and promoting healthy aging.
However, one of the best known benefits of vitamin C is its ability to support the immune system.
3 Ways Vitamin C Strengthens Your Immune System
Vitamin C is involved in many parts of the immune system. Most important being – strengthening white blood cells, acting as an antioxidant, and improving tissue formation.
- Boosts white blood cell action
Vitamin C plays a key role in white blood cell action.
The micronutrient promotes the production of both white blood cells (lymphocytes and phagocytes) and antibodies. These cells and immune system components help protect the body against viruses, infections, and illnesses (2).
- Antioxidant power
As an antioxidant, vitamin C can help protect your cells against the effects of molecules called free radicals.
Free radicals are produced when your body breaks down food or is exposed to harmful tobacco smoke or radiation (3). This occurs by Vitamin C aids the protection of white blood cells (i.e., lymphocytes and phagocytes) from the damage free radicals can cause (1).
It’s antioxidant properties also assist in maintaining skin health. Vitamin C is actively transported to the skin where it help strengthen the skin’s barriers and promote its natural regeneration process (1).
- Supports Skin Cells
Vitamin C is essential for the growth and strengthening and defense of all the body’s tissues – including the skin. Primarily due to its contribution to collagen production, which a key protein in building skin tissue (4).
Because of this, vitamin C keeps our skin strong, which is the body’s first line of defense to disease and infection—the skin (and mucus membranes). Strong, healthy skin is an essential barrier for keeping out harmful bacteria. Vitamin C plays a role in producing collagen, which is a key protein for the structure of skin.
Vitamin C also improves recovery time associated with tissue infections and illnesses.
Will Vitamin C Help You During Seasonal Changes?
There are many beliefs that claim Vitamin C by itself is effective for immune support. While this in fact is not actually correct, it is true that vitamin C and vitamin C supplements do provide other benefits to help you through seasonal challenges.
Vitamin C’s power as an antioxidant and ability to produce collagen to protect the skin also assists in supporting the immune system.
Also, vitamin C deficiency is connected to poor recovery from illness, due to weakened immune system and higher risk for infection. Illness also depletes the vitamin C stored inside immune cells (1).
Other Benefits of Vitamin C
Beyond immune system strength, vitamin C provides the body several other benefits –keeping bones strong, aiding iron absorption, boosting brain health, and promoting healthy aging.
These functions also play essential roles in keeping the body healthy during seasonal changes as you age.
- Keeps bones strong
Vitamin C’s role in collagen production is also important for bone mineralization, maintenance, and repair. But not only bones of the body, but also teeth and cartilage (4). Higher intake of vitamin C is also linked to higher bone density.
- Aids iron absorption
Iron is an important nutrient for several functions in the body. This includes making red blood cells. Red blood cells transport micronutrients and oxygen through the body, keeping it functioning properly.
- Boost brain health, mood, and memory
The brain consumes high amounts of vitamin C to function properly.
Most role vitamin C plays brain health is regulating moods and keeping the nervous system functioning properly. Vitamin C’s contribution to the brain also support ‘cognitive capacity’ – AKA: memory – as you age.
- Promotes healthy aging
Healthy aging is essential for not only staving off age-related diseases, but also for preventing potentially harmful infectious diseases.
Consuming vitamin C in recommended daily amount throughout the lifetime may help stave off several issues related to aging. Including a weakened immune system, which can lead to higher rates of infection.
Daily requirement of Vitamin C
The recommended daily amount of vitamin C is 90mg and 75mg for adult men and adult women, respectively (2). Which is the amount of vitamin C you should be consuming to keep your body and immune system strong.
To reduce severity and duration of seasonal challenges, 1-2 g of vitamin C should be taken per day to be most beneficial (1).
How to Boost Your Immunity with Vitamin C during Seasonal Changes
While vitamin C may not directly reduce your chances of coming into contact with immune challenges, it may assist in minimizing your illness.
This vitamin plays several key functions in the immune system. Including boosting white blood cell production, acting as an antioxidant, and improving tissue formation and healing. All of which protect the body from harmful pathogens. If you do become sick, vitamin C can also help reduce the severity and duration of your illness (1).
For these benefits – and many more – you may consider adding a vitamin C supplement this season.
Author: Allison Lansman, RDN, LD