Vitamin C's Immune Benefits
You’ve probably heard that vitamin C is good for the immune system and that it might be able to help keep you from getting sick. But why is that? Why is vitamin C so good for immunity? In this article, I explain vitamin C’s immune benefits and how you can take advantage of this important essential nutrient.
I will cover:
- The basics of vitamin C.
- Vitamin C immune benefits.
- How deficiency increases your susceptibility to infection.
- How to get plenty of vitamin C.
- Key takeaways.
Vitamin C basics
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient, meaning your body can’t make it and you have to get it from your diet. Our bodies rely on vitamin C for many different important functions that keep us healthy; it protects everything from our hearts to our skin to our eyes. And, of course, our immune health.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient, so our bodies have a low capacity for storing it. Unless you are constantly taking in vitamin C, you can run low on this essential nutrient within just a couple of weeks.
While major vitamin C deficiencies (think scurvy) are quite rare these days, subclinical vitamin C deficiencies are actually very common. This is the kind of deficiency that may not be severe or show up on a test, but is enough to weaken your body. And maybe most importantly, it is enough to weaken your immune system.
Vitamin C’s immune benefits
Vitamin C does many, many things in the body. But its positive influence on the immune system is quite incredible. There are countless vitamin C immune benefits in the body, making this vitamin key for immunity.
Below are some of the links between vitamin C and immunity.
1. Enhances antibodies
Antibodies are the proteins that allow you to fight off pathogens and anything that shouldn’t be in your body. They attack and neutralize intruders, stopping them from harming the body. Vitamin C helps to elevate antibody activity so that you can better flag and destroy pathogens.
2. Increases neutrophil motility
Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell. They help by cleaning things up, engulfing and killing certain microbes. Vitamin C helps neutrophils with that essential job, speeding up their motility so that they can perform even better.
3. Enhances B-cells
B-cells are a type of lymphocyte, a particular kind of immune cell. B-cells are responsible for secreting antibodies. Vitamin C helps to enhance B-cells so that you have more antibodies and a stronger response to harmful invaders.
4. Enhances T-cells
Vitamin C also enhances T-cells. T-cells are the other type of lymphocyte that helps you to fight off infections. T-cells are thought of as the soldiers of your immune system, who seek out and destroy enemy invaders.
5. Increases interferon
Interferon is a hormone that kills infected cells and their surrounding neighbors, helping to clear an infection from your body before it spreads and causes more damage.
As you can see, a major benefit of vitamin C is that it helps to fight infections in the body. It supports the immune system in doing its job through various mechanisms.
Without enough vitamin C, you are more susceptible to infection
Vitamin C boosts immune system function via numerous pathways. It is very important for keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Without enough of this nutrient, your immune system can become weak; as a result, you become more susceptible to infection and getting sick.
Any form of vitamin C deficiency, whether it’s severe scurvy or subclinical, can put you at risk for certain infections. Scurvy is especially dangerous, making you more susceptible to fatal infections like pneumonia.
To reduce the risk of getting sick, keeping your vitamin C levels in the healthy range is a must.
Reasons for vitamin C deficiency
As mentioned earlier, subclinical vitamin C deficiencies are quite common. You may not even realize it, but your body may not be functioning the way it should if your vitamin C levels are lower than they should be.
There are two main reasons you can end up low in vitamin C:
- Not getting enough vitamin C in your diet. If you aren’t eating a healthy, well-rounded diet full of nutritious foods, then you can end up vitamin C deficient. You need to get vitamin C from foods in your diet, and that requires eating plenty of healthy vegetables. Unfortunately, many people don’t eat enough vitamin C-rich foods.
- Having an infection. When you get an infection, this puts stress on the immune system. Infections increase the need for vitamin C in your body, because your immune cells need vitamin C to function. When you are sick, you are using more vitamin C than normal, and that can deplete your vitamin C reserves. This is especially true if you are not putting vitamin C back in through your diet and you are not keeping it replenished.
Preventing deficiency is really important if you want to avoid becoming vulnerable to infection and illness.
How to get enough vitamin C
It is vital to maintain healthy levels of vitamin C, especially during times when you are at higher risk of getting sick (the cold and flu season, for example).
You need to consume a minimum of 200 mg of vitamin C per day.
There are two main ways to get vitamin C:
- Through your diet. Healthy vitamin C-rich foods include:
- Leafy greens
- Bell peppers
- Any hot peppers like jalapenos
- Through a vitamin C supplement. If you opt for a supplement, make sure to choose a whole food complex of vitamin C rather than a synthetic supplement. The synthetic version (ascorbic acid) is not nearly as effective as the natural version from actual food. Learn more here.
Vitamin C has many health benefits in the body, but vitamin C’s immune benefits are maybe the most impressive of the bunch. They enhance the function of your immune cells and help your body fight infection.
Here are some key things to keep in mind about the vitamin C benefits for immune system health:
- Vitamin C and immunity are tightly linked; you need vitamin C to have a healthy immune system.
- Vitamin C deficiency increases your susceptibility to infection.
- Aim for 200 mg of vitamin C per day.
- To get a vitamin C boost, consider vitamin C from foods like sauerkraut, leafy greens, or peppers.
- As far as supplements go, the best vitamin C to boost your immune system is a natural whole food complex.
Take advantage of the vitamin C immune boost, and make sure you are giving your immune system the best chance possible of fighting off infection. It’s a simple, easy thing you can do to protect yourself and stay healthy.
Share your comments and questions on vitamin C immune benefits down below.
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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.