Top 4 Vitamin C Benefits for the Immune System
Vitamin C is an essential micronutrient. Without it, we are at risk for poor immune function, skin health issues, and joint problems. The many benefits of vitamin C consumption are well known and continuously studied, and its effects on the immune system are top-of-mind, especially in the past year. In this article, we’ll examine some of the ways vitamin C benefits your immunity.
What is our immune system?
Our immune system is a massive network in our body, composed of organs, white blood cells and proteins that protect us from viruses, infection, and pathogens. There are also two types of immunity that we have, and it’s important to clarify.
- Innate immune system: this includes physical, chemical, or cellular defences against pathogens like our tears, stomach acid and mucous membranes.
- Adaptive immune system: also known as acquired immunity, it is marked by the expansion of T and B lymphocytes (a.k.a. our immune army) that set out to destroy the invader. Simply put, when we get sick once, our body learns what those pathogens look like, and can prepare for the next time.
Does vitamin C improve immunity?
There are a variety of ways that vitamin C works with our immune system to support, build and boost it. In fact, vitamin C works with both our innate and adaptive immune systems (1) Here are a few ways that vitamin C can support you.
1. Vitamin C helps reduce the length of the common cold and flu
Vitamin C is commonly used during cold and flu season to help prevent or reduce the symptoms of these common ailments. One study has shown that supplementing with Vitamin C, beyond diet alone, reduced the number of colds as well as the length in those taking the supplement (2). The reduction in symptoms has been attributed to vitamin C’s antioxidant properties and ability to reduce overall inflammation (3).
2. Vitamin C can aid in wound healing
It is important to remember that our immune system isn’t at work only when we get sick. Our immune system also helps us recover from injury and wounds. Vitamin C can help with everything from cuts and scrapes, to sports injuries and surgery. Studies have shown that dosing above the recommended daily allowance (RDA), of 500 to 3000 mg can accelerate recovery (4).
3. Vitamin C helps reduce symptoms from seasonal allergies
As an antioxidant, vitamin C can help with general inflammation in the body, as is seen with seasonal allergies. In addition, studies have shown that supplementing with Vitamin C can be helpful to reduce symptoms of hay fever (7).
One study shows that supplementing with high-dose vitamin C (2,000mg) daily can lower blood histamine levels. Histamine is typically known for its impact on seasonal allergies, hence the reason we reach for antihistamine medications when we feel the sniffly nose and watery eyes starting!
4. Vitamin C reduces oxidative stress
Oxidative stress is when there is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. This typically causes cell and tissue damage, leading to faster aging and illness, including conditions like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Vitamin C has been shown to reduce overall oxidative stress in the body (8).
Overall, Vitamin C is an essential part of our daily routine, whether through food or supplements. It’s important to remember that under times of stress, if you’re taking certain medication or if you’ve been feeling under the weather, it can be helpful to supplement with vitamin C in higher doses.
Many people can tolerate 1,000 mg of vitamin C with no ill effect on their bowels. If your vitamin C intake leaves you running for the washroom, try to halve your dose!