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Vitamin C and Immunity

3 min read

woman picking an orange

By Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

Vitamin C is an impressive nutrient. It is primarily an antioxidant, fighting damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals. Additionally, it is crucial for many important functions in our bodies, but is most known for its role in the immune system.

A certain amount of Vitamin C is required for proper health, but our bodies do not have the ability to make it on their own. Therefore, we need to get our daily C from food or supplements.

...lower levels of Vitamin C have been associated with poorer health outcomes.

Vitamin C works to support the immune system in several ways:

  • It encourages the production and optimal function of white blood cells, which help fight off foreign invaders;

  • It supports skin health;

  • It aids in wound healing, since it is required to make new collagen, the structural protein of the skin.

  • Some studies demonstrate the potential of Vitamin C to reduce the duration of cold symptoms, particularly in individuals who are under intense physical stress, such as athletes.

Vitamin C and Our Immune System

Vitamin C is popular for supporting the immune system due to its ability to help the body fight off infections. In particular, it increases the production of two specific white blood cells that are the first line of defense against infection. In a 2018 study involving more than 98,000 participants, those who had lower levels of these specific white blood cells tended to have a greater risk of infections.

Low levels of Vitamin C can impair wound healing. If you have an injury or wound, it may take longer to heal if you are deficient in Vitamin C, due to the role it plays in making new collagen to heal skin. Wounds that don’t heal can affect your immunity because they make you more prone to infection. 

Generally speaking, lower levels of Vitamin C have been associated with poorer health outcomes.

Vitamin C Food Sources

The best food sources of Vitamin C are citrus fruits, berries, beets, broccoli, green leafy veggies like kale and spinach and tomatoes. Try to incorporate a variety of these healthy foods into your diet regularly to meet your needs. 

Be careful of how you prepare foods rich in Vitamin C.  As a water-soluble nutrient, Vitamin C  can be destroyed through cooking and high heat. Eating these foods raw, steamed or microwaved is preferred to retain the most nutrients. Or if you prefer your produce blended, try this delicious mixed berry and red beet smoothie

Vitamin C Requirements

The recommended daily dose of Vitamin C is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men, and the upper limit is 2,000 mg a day. Eating a well-balanced diet will help you more easily meet your nutritional needs. However, if you don’t consume a lot of fruits and vegetables or you frequently get colds or other respiratory infections, a supplement can help you get the Vitamin C you need.

Many multivitamins contain Vitamin C, or you can choose to take a separate Vitamin C supplement. Some Vitamin C supplements taste great, but it’s important not to overdo it. A high dose of supplemental Vitamin C can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. 

Focusing on getting in enough Vitamin C on a daily basis will help keep your immune system performing at its best, so you can worry less about illness taking you out and feel better as you go about your daily existence.

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