Vitamin C-also known as ascorbic acid-is one of the most well-known vitamins for supporting and boosting immune function. One of its major functions in the human body is as a water-soluble antioxidant. Being water-soluble, it is not stored in the body in an appreciable amount and must be constantly replenished through the diet by eating foods rich in the vitamin or by supplementing with it.
Studies show that vitamin C is depleted when the body is under stress, whether it is physical or psychological stress, making it one of the most important vitamins for supporting the body’s response to stress and similar challenges. That is why it is crucial to get an adequate amount. Beyond that, however, research shows that stress depresses immune function. Given vitamin C’s role in the immune response, it makes sense that those of us who are under stress (which is, arguably, most of us these days) have an increased requirement for this vitamin.
Several clinical trials have looked at the effects of vitamin C supplements in people who are under constant stress (including athletes, military personnel, and others) and found that supplementing with vitamin C significantly benefits immune function and protected them from feeling sick.
Vitamin C benefits include immune protection through a multi-faceted approach with some of its major roles being:
Antioxidant: Scavenges free radicals, or molecules that are highly damaging to cells and tissues including fats, proteins, carbohydrates and DNA, leading to a protective effect on the body.
Collagen support: Vitamin C stabilizes collagen, which is an important factor in maintaining the integrity of the physical immune barrier, keeping external insults, including pathogens, from wreaking havoc on the body.
Immune cell function: Vitamin C provides direct benefits to the functioning of white blood cells, key cogs of the body’s immune response. As these cells, including neutrophils and monocytes, perform their role in fending off immune attacks, they actively accumulate vitamin C to scavenge free radicals that lead to cellular damage and stem the development of inflammation. Moreover, vitamin C is necessary for neutrophils, B-cells and T-cells of the immune system to perform their function.
Antihistamine and anti-inflammatory effects: Studies show that vitamin C has a complex role in modulating the function of cytokines, chemical messengers and mediators of the immune response within the body to support a healthy inflammatory balance. In addition, animal studies have shown that vitamin C can decrease histamine levels, which is an important factor in allergies and the immune response to them.
Being such an important factor for so many different parameters of the immune system, vitamin C is a nutrient that plays a holistic role in ensuring that your immune health is optimal and immune vigilance is maintained in an alert state, especially in times of increased stress. So, it makes sense to ensure adequate intake of this critical vitamin through a healthy diet.
Some common vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, peppers of various types, papayas and strawberries. In addition, make sure to keep a supplement containing vitamin C on hand for those times you feel stressed out or worn down, or even to take every day. Having vitamin C on hand is an easy and prudent move and makes sense to give your immune system an added boost and keep your immune system vigilant against external invaders.
- Carr AC et al. 2017. Vitamin C and Immune Function.
Tags: Vitamin C, ascorbic acid, immune, antioxidant, stress, inflammation, histamine, collagen, fatigue, immunity, energy, endurance, cell health