You undoubtedly know that vitamin C plays an important part in immune health. Whether your mother encourages you to load up on C when you feel a cold coming on, or you’re just hoping to avoid scurvy, this vitamin plays an important role in our immune systems. Your body can’t produce it on its own, so grab the citrus, the supplements, the spinach and the broccoli. Here’s exactly how vitamin C improves your immune health—and how to get the most out of your C.
The benefits of ascorbic acid
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid, which is a water-soluble vitamin found in many fruits and vegetables. Generally, adult women should get about 75 mg of C each day, while adult men need 90 mg. C is available in fruits and vegetables, but it’s also fine if you get yours from a supplement.
Here are some of the health benefits of vitamin C:
- A powerful antioxidant: Antioxidants fight free radicals, which are harmful compounds that can cause inflammation, cancer and a number of other diseases. Vitamin C works by increasing your blood’s antioxidant levels by up to 30 percent. This reduces your inflammation, and lowers the risk of inflammation-related diseases.
- Lowers uric acid: Gout isn’t just for the King Henry VIIIs of the world. Gout occurs when there’s too much uric acid in your bloodstream, and can cause painful joint inflammation. It’s particularly prone to appearing in the toes. This can be a result of eating too many rich foods, and not getting enough vitamin C. Vitamin C helps by reducing the amount of uric acid in the bloodstream, which reduces the possibility of gout attacks. If only Henry had eaten a few more oranges, he might not have been so cranky.
- Boosts your immunity: Vitamin C is great for warding off illness and strengthening your immune system. While claims of fighting colds require more research, we do know that ascorbic acid improves white blood cell production (lymphocytes and phagocytes). It also protects those cells from damage by free radicals. Getting plenty of vitamin C will strengthen your skin’s barriers against illness, may shorten pneumonia recovery time and can speed wound healing.
- Protects memory and cognition: Cognitive decline (like dementia) is thought to be a product of oxidative stress near the brain, spine and nerves. As you now know, vitamin C is a great antioxidant, reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. This improves your overall brain health, including memory and cognition. Make sure to get plenty of C so you can stay sharp well into your old age.
- Helps prevent iron deficiency: Vitamin C can help ensure that you absorb the iron you get in your diet. Iron is key in transporting oxygen throughout your body and creating more red blood cells, but plant-based sources of iron aren’t easy for the body to absorb. If you get most of your iron from plants (as opposed to red meat and other sources), make sure that you take a vitamin C supplement.
- May lower the risk of heart disease: Heart disease risk factors include high blood pressure, high triglyceride or LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. It looks like vitamin C may help lower these risk factors, which in turn reduces the risk of developing heart disease. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, any preventative measures you can take will pay off in the long run.
- May help manage high blood pressure: Whether you have high blood pressure already or just want to stave it off, vitamin C may help manage or lower your risk. While you can’t rely on vitamin C alone to manage your blood pressure, it’s yet another reason to make sure that you get plenty of this vitamin in your daily diet.
C the difference
Vitamin C makes a big difference in our overall health. Winter is on the way in the northern hemisphere, which is cold and flu season. With the threat of new COVID-19 variants on the way, and plenty of large gatherings on the schedule, you might want to increase your vitamin C intake. It’ll help you ward off illness—and the long-term effects, like protecting your memory, lowering blood pressure, lowering the risk of heart disease and preventing iron deficiency can only contribute to your overall health. Go ahead, reach for that citrus—or your favorite supplement.