How Does Vitamin C Help Your Immune System?

Girl with orange slices over eyes vitamin c immune support

Vitamin C immune support: Will vitamin C help strengthen your immune system and help keep you healthier?

With the coronavirus still raging in the U.S., worried families continue to stock up on hand sanitizers and cleaning supplies. While these products can eliminate the dangers of external germs, what happens once the germs are inside of you? 

For many, the answer is to boost the only defense they have inside of their bodies: their immune systems. And that’s where vitamin C comes in. 

So What Is Vitamin C?

When you take a peek at the label on a multivitamin bottle, you’ll see an overwhelming variety of vitamins — A and B and D and K — so many different kinds of alphabetically named vitamins that it makes your head spin. Vitamin C is likely another ingredient you’ve seen on a nutrition label, but don’t completely understand. So here’s the simple explanation: Vitamin C is an ascorbic acid, which means that the body can’t store very much of it over time; instead, it has to be replenished daily. vitamin C is essential to the formation and upkeep of teeth, bones, tissues, skin, and capillaries, by producing collagen, the protein necessary for these functions.

But Does Vitamin C Actually Do Anything for My Immune System?

Absolutely! Although we don’t often think of skin as part of the immune system, it is your body’s most protective shield against external germs. By activating key enzymes, vitamin C produces collagen, which helps the skin stay strong. In addition, vitamin C is an antioxidant, which means it fights free radicals (chemically reactive particles that can cause damage to proteins, cells, tissues, and genetic materials) triggered by environmental factors like air pollutants, tobacco smoke, and even fried foods. 

But that’s not all: Vitamin C encourages the production and function of white blood cells. Within the body, white blood cells are responsible for fighting off viruses and bacteria that may do you harm, and vitamin C helps point these cells to the places where they are needed. 

In addition, evidence cited in Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids suggests that vitamin C may decrease risk for some forms of cancer. In particular, the report say “the Iowa Women’s Health Study (Kushi et al., 1996a) found a 20% decrease in breast cancer risk with greater than 500 mg/day of vitamin C intake from supplements,” while other studies also showed a correlation between the taking of vitamin C supplements and decrease in risks of cervical, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. 

As for vitamin C’s power in fighting the common cold, there’s no evidence that it prevents them, but studies have shown that vitamin C — whether from diet or supplement — may decrease the length and severity of your cold and help fight infection.

So I Should Take a Bunch of Vitamin C Every Day, Right?

While vitamin C is an excellent nutrient to include in your diet, too much of it can still cause you harm. According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended dose per day is 65-90 milligrams, The National Institutes for Health lists the upper limits of intake for adults at 2000mg and average daily recommended amounts here.

So How Do I Ensure I Get The Right Amount of Vitamin C?

Since the human body doesn’t naturally make vitamin C and can’t store it for long periods of time, vitamin C comes entirely from your diet. For the best vitamin C immune support, healthy children, and adults with healthy diets (which includes variety), the amount of vitamin C found naturally in many foods is enough to ensure the wellbeing of your immune system. Oranges may be the toted figurehead for your vitamin C needs, but other fruits and veggies provide plenty of the nutrients — bell peppers, strawberries, papayas, broccoli, and kale, for example. Just keep in mind that these foods lose vitamin C after being heated up or stored for long periods of time. A fresh salad would be a great way to get your daily intake of this vital nutrient. If you can’t find fresh produce or worry about spoilage, stash bags of broccoli, kale, strawberries, and other frozen fruits in your freezer. Freezing helps fruits and veggies maintain their nutritional value — and you’ll have the makings of a great smoothie on hand.

If like many of us, achieving healthy diet status is more goal than a reality, the best way to ensure you are getting the minimum amount of vitamin C is to take a multivitamin supplement targeted to your age. As always, check with a health professional or dietitian, especially if you are taking medication or have health risks

photo of Caroline Sun

Caroline Sun

Caroline Sun is a freelance writer from the suburbs of Chicago, where she currently serves as digital editor-in-chief of her school's student media publication. When she’s not writing, she spends her time running, volunteering, perfecting her juggling, and trying to get first graders to sit still for piano lessons.

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