The Vitamin C and the Immune System

Vitamin C has long been the go-to vitamin when we get sniffles. Common knowledge tells us that there is a link between Vitamin C and the immune system

Many of us grew up following common knowledge: when you feel like you’ve caught a cold, load up on Vitamin C.

We know that Vitamin C and the immune system are linked–but, this season’s wave of common cold and flu viruses, got us thinking…

What exactly is Vitamin C and how much of a role does it actually play in the prevention of the common cold?

An Overview of Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an organic molecule needed by our bodies for normal function and growth. It is a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce damage caused by unstable molecules within the body, free radicals. These unstable molecules occur as a natural byproduct of necessary functions, such as digestion, or as a result of harmful environmental factors such as pollution and smoking.

The damage caused by these molecules is referred to as oxidative stress. Antioxidants have been shown to counteract oxidative stress and have thus been linked to possible disease prevention, but this has not been reliably proven through clinical trials.

The roles of Vitamin C as a scavenger for these free radicals makes it vital for immune health. It supports multiple components of the immune system, is involved in wound healing, and ensures that other compounds within the body are functioning correctly.

Vitamin C and the Common Cold

Vitamin C has been touted as a natural cure-all/prevention method for the common cold. This is mostly due to several publications by Linus Pauling in the 1970s. Pauling became a sort of champion for Vitamin C and the benefits of consuming high quantities of it.

However, more recent and more targeted studies have not shown a direct link between increased Vitamin C intake and the prevention of colds. Taking more than 1000 mg/day causes absorption to decrease to around 50%. While such high intake levels are not toxic to healthy individuals, they may be toxic for those with existing kidney problems.

Though consuming high quantities of Vitamin C may not prevent colds, there is evidence that increased Vitamin C intake can shorten the duration of a cold.


In other words, Vitamin C  won’t be your unbreakable shield from catching a common cold…but, it definitely can help prevent it and help the body recover from it.

Vitamin C and Your Body

Vitamins are essential to our health, but our bodies cannot make them.*   We only need small quantities of vitamins, so the best way to ensure you are getting the proper amount is through a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. In many cases with a proper diet, minimal exposure to poor environmental factors, and a good exercise and sleep routine, supplements are unnecessary.

The human body has a low storage capacity for Vitamin C, so adequate regular intake is necessary.

Men over 19 need around 90 mg/day and women over 19 need around 75 mg/day. Pregnant women require 80 mg/day, and breastfeeding women require 120 mg/day. Smokers have higher levels of oxidative stress and should be consuming +35 mg/day on top of the average recommended amount.

The best way to get the most Vitamin C from your foods is to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and eat them soon after buying. (It’s best to eat fresh foods soon after cutting and preparing them, in general).

Vitamin C is water soluble, so cooking methods that involve a lot of water and long cooking times will decrease the amount of Vitamin C in the final product. Stir-frying is the most efficient (and often the most tasty) way of preparing a meal rich in Vitamin C.

Common foods high in Vitamin C include:

  • red and yellow sweet-peppers (raw)
  • oranges
  • kiwis
  • broccoli (cooked)
  • strawberries
  • cabbage
  • cantaloupe
  • potatoes (baked)

Sweet peppers contain the most Vitamin C per serving and potatoes contain the least. One serving equals a ½ cup or one medium fruit or potato.


In Conclusion

Eating foods that contain Vitamin C on a regular basis is important because:

  • our bodies don’t make Vitamin C naturally
  • our bodies have a low storage capacity for it
  • it’s a nutrient that does play an integral role in immunity (and other systems, too)!

Researchers have found that Vitamin C supplementation won’t prevent the common cold all the time, but it could certainly be helpful in giving your immune system the “boost” it needs to run efficiently.


* Technically, however, our bodies can convert sunlight into small amounts of Vitamin D and our gut bacteria can produce some vitamins.

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