Hero Ingredient: What Is Vitamin C And How Does It Affect Immune Function?
The human body requires a plethora of different nutrients to function at its best. Each nutrient works within the body to carry out specific tasks, and when there is not enough of a particular nutrient, the relevant part of the body can falter, leaving others to pick up the slack.
There are quite a few specific vitamins that are vital for different systems. For example, vitamin C plays a role in tissue repair and the production of neurotransmitters, and also acts as an antioxidant to help prevent a build-up of free radicals. One other bodily system that relies heavily on vitamin C is the immune system. So what is vitamin C, exactly? And how does vitamin C affect immune function in particular?
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. This means that it dissolves in the water in the body and is then absorbed to aid in specific functions. It is also known as ascorbic acid, and it does not store in the body as some other substances would. Since vitamin C can be excreted from the system quite easily, it needs daily replenishment to keep up with its duties.
What does Vitamin C do in the body?
Vitamin C is a jack-of-all-trades type of nutrient because of how much it can do within the body. Collagen formation depends heavily on how much vitamin C the body has within its stores. The nutrient also plays a role in:
- The absorption of iron, another essential nutrient
- Wound healing
- Cartilage, bone, and teeth maintenance
- Protecting the body against damage that can be caused by a buildup of harmful free radicals
How does vitamin C affect immune function?
The immune system can become weakened easily and needs a lot of other bodily processes to be operating smoothly for it to do its job properly. By working on a cellular level with both the innate and adaptive immune system, vitamin C supports the body’s overall defense by way of epithelial barrier function support, which leads to better protection against pathogens. The antioxidant effect also plays a role in how the body wards off illness by preventing oxidative stress. Vitamin C can also act as a antimicrobial.
The immune system has specific cells that help ward off infection, known as B and T-cells. Because Vitamin C has gene-regulating effects, it helps the body differentiate between the two cells, thus enhancing the immune response overall. Without an adequate amount of vitamin C, the immune function can become weak, and the body is left vulnerable to the invasion of foreign pathogens and more susceptible to infection.
How much vitamin C should I take to boost my immune system?
The amount of vitamin C a person needs will vary depending on a few factors. Things such as age, personal absorption abilities, oxidative decomposition, and elimination are the basic factors in how much the body needs, how well it keeps it within the system, and how much of the overall intake gets excreted out of the body. These will likely be different from person to person.
Depending on a person’s starting health, the amount of vitamin C intake will also differ. For example, men and women will need different amounts of vitamin C to maintain health, as will children. Pregnant women will also require more. The optimal amounts of vitamin C for these demographics are:
- Adult men: 90 mg/day
- Adult women: 75 mg/day
- Pregnant adult women: 85–120 mg/day
- Adults with a history of smoking: 35 mg/day more than the regular intake
Children will also require different levels of vitamin C, but typical amounts for children under the age of 18 range anywhere from 15 to 75 mg/day.
Taking vitamin C with a chronic illness or to help beat a common cold is a handy option, and will also involve differing amounts depending on the person. Those with chronic disease have seen promising results by taking higher than the recommended daily dosage, all the way up to 2 g/day. For those suffering from a cold or infection, dosing of 1–2 g/day was also seen to help reduce the length of time a person was ill.
What are the best sources of vitamin C?
Vitamin C comes in many forms, but the best sources are food sources. Some foods are higher in vitamin C than others and you’ll get more bang for your buck if you choose high-source foods over lower ones.
The foods highest in vitamin C include:
- Red bell pepper
- Citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges
- Brussels sprouts
Vitamin C can also be found in supplement form if you cannot get enough through diet alone. Typically, vitamin C supplements are capsules or chewable tablets.
Knowing how much vitamin C you need and what it does for the body is the first step towards incorporating it into your diet for overall health and optimal immunity.