Vitamin C: Essential for Your Immune System and More

Vitamin C is well-known for its immunity-boosting benefits. Here's a guide to how vitamin C benefits your whole body, and information on how to take it.

9 minute read

Last Updated September 20, 2021

Vitamin C: Essential for Your Immune System and More

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an essential mineral, which means your body is not able to produce it, and you need to get vitamin C from your food or supplements. Vitamin C plays many important roles in the body. Most commonly, this essential vitamin is known for boosting the immune system

Vitamin C and Your Immune System

♦ Vitamin C is utilized by tissues all over your body. It benefits the growth and repair of tissues as well as supporting heart, bone, and kidney health. It is the antioxidant power of vitamin C that gets the most attention, as this helps prevent cancer, reduce aging, and boosts immunity. 

♦ The most common food sources for vitamin C are citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, and potatoes. Because your body does not store vitamin C for long, it is beneficial to also take supplements containing vitamin C. This is especially true when you are looking to strengthen your immune system. 

♦ Vitamin C is a key player in your immune defense. There are several ways this vitamin helps you maintain a strong and well-functioning immune system. 

♦ Vitamin C is mostly found in your white blood cells. These are also known as your immunity cells, and their purpose is to protect you from infection and disease. These cells contain more than 80 times the amount of vitamin C found anywhere else in the body. 

♦ Vitamin C supports the immune response. By strengthening the function of the T-lymphocytes and macrophages, all foreign agents are attacked and destroyed. Vitamin C enhances phagocyte function. These specialized immune cells capture and digest invading pathogens. These pathogens are then neutralized with enzymes, thus protecting you from infection. 

♦ Vitamin C increases lymphocyte production. T-cells that are important for cell-mediated immune responses are multiplied by the presence of vitamin C. Additionally, B-lymphocytes are produced as part of the antibody immune response. 

♦ Vitamin C helps with the production of interferons. Interferons are produced when an invading pathogen is detected, which initiates a protective defense within your cells. 

♦ Vitamin C increases cytokine production. White blood cells produce cytokines to transmit information to other cells. Vitamin C increases these, thus promoting a strong immune response. 

♦ Vitamin C inhibits apoptosis (cell death). Apoptosis occurs as part of a normal cell cycle, but vitamin C can hinder this for T-cells. Because these are part of the immune response, keeping these vital cells alive is essential to stronger immunity. 

♦ Vitamin C increases nitrogen oxide production. Phagocytes produce nitrogen oxide in large quantities, which is a key component of killing any captured pathogens. 

♦ Vitamin C supports the antibody function. Antibodies are an essential part of the immune system as they recognize anything foreign that needs to be attacked or removed.

♦ Vitamin C breaks down pathogen defenses. Bacteria and viruses produce an enzyme known as neuraminidase. This prevents them from getting trapped in mucus, which is one of our natural defenses. Vitamin C inhibits the production of this enzyme, leaving bacteria and viruses vulnerable to immune attacks. Vitamin c also can make bacterial membranes more permeable and vulnerable to some antibiotics. 

♦ Vitamin C supports mucus production by increasing the fluid fatty secretions needed for this defense mechanism.

♦ Vitamin C supports natural killer cells. These small lymphocytes are charged with directly attacking cells such as cancer cells, and vitamin C promotes their activities. 

♦ Vitamin C enhances prostaglandin formation. Prostaglandins are hormones that control certain processes such as the regulation of T-cells and immune responses

♦ Vitamin C works with hydrogen peroxide. When combined with hydrogen peroxide, ascorbic acid kills microorganisms and can fully dissolve certain dangerous bacteria, including pneumococci (known to cause bronchial infections and pneumonia). 

Additional Health Benefits of Vitamin C

In addition to boosting your immunity, vitamin C provides several other health benefits. This water-soluble vitamin is instrumental in promoting bone, heart, kidney, and overall health. 

Prevent heart disease: Heart disease is the number one cause of death across the world. While genetic factors play a part in your risk for this disease, you can also take steps to prevent it. The factors that increase your risk for heart disease are high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Vitamin C can help with both. Studies have found that vitamin C reduces blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart. Taking vitamin C as part of a daily immune health supplement routine is linked to a lower risk of heart disease. It is also shown to lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol as well as triglycerides. 

Absorb more iron: Iron is an essential mineral used to make the red blood cells which deliver oxygen throughout your body. An iron deficiency leads to anemia, which increases your susceptibility to other diseases. Vitamin C helps your body to absorb iron from your diet by converting it into a more easily absorbed version. Along with taking iron supplements, additional vitamin C will make sure the iron you consume will be efficiently used. 

Prevent vision loss: Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss, but prevention can be achieved with supplemental support. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C are associated with reducing the risk of its development. Furthermore, taking vitamin C every day can slow the disease's progression in those who have already been diagnosed. Even with macular degeneration, you can protect yourself from full vision loss. 

Protect your memory: One of the biggest fears of aging is memory loss and cognitive decline. Dementia affects millions worldwide, and while there are several contributing factors to this, oxidative damage is a key player. The activities of free radicals, along with stress and inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, increase the risk of neurodegeneration. The powerful antioxidant properties of vitamin C have been found to protect against this. Individuals with dementia also show vitamin C deficiency, indicating that higher levels of vitamin C are associated with memory protection

The Right Dosage of Vitamin C

The amount of daily vitamin C you need will depend on your age and gender. You should always consult your doctor regarding the recommended dosage, especially when taking supplements that contain the vitamin. In general, the daily recommended amount of vitamin C is below:

♦ Females aged 14 to 18: 65 milligrams per day
♦ Females aged 19 and over: 120 milligrams per day
♦ Males aged 14 to 18: 75 milligrams per day
♦ Males aged 19 and over: 120 milligrams per day

In addition to this, individuals that smoke will need to consume an additional 35 milligrams per day. Anyone with a vitamin C deficiency will need between 1200 and 200 milligrams per day. 

When you are looking for supplements, make sure you get only a vitamin C supplement that is high-quality and clinically proven, because not all are the same quality. 

Side Effects and Warnings

As beneficial as vitamin C is, there are some circumstances where it should not be taken. For the most part, vitamin C is safe to consume, but you should not take vitamin C if:

♦ You have kidney or liver conditions
♦ You are allergic to ascorbic acid
♦ You are pregnant (consult your doctor as to the recommended dose as it will vary from the general amount)

Too much vitamin C can cause a condition known as hyperoxaluria. This is a very serious condition where too much oxalic acid is excreted in your urine, risking the formation of kidney stones. 

Some people may also experience mild side effects from taking vitamin C, including:

♦ Headache
♦ Upset stomach
♦ Diarrhea
♦ Feeling lightheaded
♦ Flushed skin

Vitamin C can also interact with certain medications and other supplements, so you need to consult your doctor before taking any. It is also recommended to limit alcohol consumption when taking vitamin C because it diminishes the ability of your body to absorb the nutrient. 

The Bottom Line

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that benefits your heart, vision, bones, and, most importantly, your immunity, it is a vitamin you do not want to miss out on. Because it is water-soluble, your body does not hold it for long, so you need to maintain optimal vitamin C levels through supplements

Vitamin C is a great way to boost your health and protect your body naturally from infections and other serious health conditions. It is time to get better acquainted with this water-soluble vitamin so you can enjoy better health.