Vitamin C’s Role in Your Immunity
As the snow begins to fall, many Canadians gear up for joyful winter activities, whether it’s snowshoeing through a trail, hitting the slopes or gliding on the skating rink. Unfortunately, what often accompanies these winter outings are the sniffles, sneezing and coughing — all signs of the dreaded winter cold.
One of the most familiar supplements that’s often regarded for its health-maintaining properties in the winter is vitamin C. For such a popular supplement, many people surprisingly are unaware of the full extent of its role in the body. Today, let’s take a look at the essential nutrient and discover what vitamin C is and exactly how it works for your health.
What is vitamin C?
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that's water-soluble, and found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. It has many functions in the body, including supporting immunity, helping to heal wounds, maintaining healthy skin and bones, aiding in the formation of collagen, and in tissue growth and repair. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that helps detoxify or cleanse the body from harmful substances.
Vitamin C and Immunity
Playing a crucial role in the maintaining of the immune system, vitamin C is usually the first thing your parents, friends and colleagues will all recommend for that nagging cough or first signs of the common cold — and here’s why the advice continues to be passed down.
When your body is fighting an infection, especially during illness, vitamin C is rapidly used up in the body due to its varied roles. Vitamin C itself not only has antimicrobial activities but it also stimulates the growth of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, which responds to an invading pathogen.
This integrated role of vitamin C in helping our body fight infection has made it a nutrient of interest in immune science for decades. In numerous trials, regular supplementation with at least 200 mg of vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms. Among highly active people in the winter, such as skiers or skaters, vitamin C supplementation cut the occurrence of the common cold by half!
Other Benefits of Supplementation
High intakes of fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. This may be due partly to the antioxidant content of these foods, as oxidative damage is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. Vitamin C has been shown to potentially reduce atherosclerosis — or the buildup of fatty plaques inside our blood vessels — by reducing the “stickiness” of immune cells. Furthermore, vitamin C can improve nitric oxide production, a key relaxer of our blood vessels, and extend the lifespan of the smooth muscle cells in our arteries and veins.
Population studies have also supported these heart-healthy benefits of vitamin C. One of the best-known and long-running studies is the Nurses’ Health Study, which ran for 16 years and included over 85,000 women nurses. The study’s authors found that, in this population, supplementing with vitamin C was associated with a decreased risk of heart disease.
Tips for Supplementing
The recommended dose to prevent deficiency of vitamin C is 75 mg per day for women and 90 mg for men. Deficiency in Canada is rare due to our generally ready access to high-quality food and supplements, but the above benefits are often seen at higher doses. Supplements are available from very low doses all the way up to 2000 mg for adults. This wide range means it has a good margin of safety, and because it’s water-soluble, the body can excrete excess vitamin C in urine. That being said, it’s important to speak with your health care practitioner before making any changes to your daily regimen.
Vitamin C is broken down by heat and light, so be sure to follow storage instructions on your supplement’s label. The best place to learn more about the variety of these products is your local CHFA Member health food store, where you’ll find it in a wide range of different forms, including capsules, powders, gummies, liquids and more. Most supplements come in the form of ascorbic acid, which is often how it appears in nature, so the absorption of supplements is generally good in the digestive tract. If you’re taking high doses, spread them out throughout the day to ensure optimal absorption.
Vitamin C carries with it a wide range of health benefits, from supporting immune health to playing a role in preventing cardiovascular disease. This winter, especially if you’re highly active and enjoying the great outdoors, consider adding a vitamin C supplement to keep your body in tip-top shape.