How Vitamin C Boosts the Immune System
When you feel the sniffles coming on, what’s your go-to remedy? Do you reach for a refreshing glass of orange juice? Do you listen to your grandma’s advice to eat lots of vitamin C-rich fruits and veggies to help you feel better?
As it turns out, the age-old wisdom to load up on this potent vitamin to get and stay healthy is more than an old wives’ tale. Vitamin C is a proven antioxidant that has many essential functions in the body, including supporting the immune system. But how does vitamin C boost your immune system to keep you healthy? Read on to find out more about what vitamin C can do to help you feel your best.
What Is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C — also known as ascorbic acid — is a water-soluble nutrient that is best known for its powerful antioxidant properties. Antioxidants support the immune system by protecting cells throughout the body from the effects of harmful free radicals. Vitamin C’s antioxidant powers strengthen the immune system and protect the body from pathogens and free radical damage.
This potent nutrient inhibits histamine levels in the blood. Lowering histamine reduces allergy symptoms and reduces the duration of minor illnesses (it acts like a natural “antihistamine”). When you’re stuffy and dealing with the sniffles, vitamin C can get you back to feeling like yourself faster.
But vitamin C does much more. It plays a role in making collagen, which keeps tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels strong — and plays a role in wound-healing.
This super-vitamin also helps the body absorb iron, increasing the bioavailability of this essential mineral.
The body doesn’t produce vitamin C on its own, so you must get it from your diet or through nutritional supplements. Colorful fruits and vegetable high in vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits
- Leafy greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Bell peppers
How Does Vitamin C Boost Your Immune System?
Vitamin C has long been touted as a natural immune booster, which means it keeps it functioning properly. While the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 75 mg per day for women and 90 mg per day for men, many people like to take hyper-doses or mega-doses to supercharge their immunity.
Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist who discovered that DNA was a double helix, was a big proponent of using hyper-doses of vitamin C for colds as well as more serious illnesses.
Let’s explore how it works.
Acts as a Strong Antioxidant
We’ve all heard the adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but it may work better with a juicy vitamin C-rich orange. If you get the summer or winter sniffles, there is evidence that vitamin C supplementation may shorten the duration of symptoms by a day or more if you take it regularly (so-called “prophylactic use”).
These amazing health benefits from vitamin C are thanks to the vitamin’s antioxidant properties. Vitamin C is known to regenerate other important antioxidants in the body, like vitamins A and E. Vitamins C and E work together for added antioxidant defense to help keep you healthy.
Some people like to take vitamin C at the first signs of a cold or flu or other illness (i.e., sore throat, lethargy, headache, and chills), hoping it will reduce the duration and severity of symptoms. There’s some evidence that this works, but more evidence suggests that daily supplementation works better.
Protects Your Cells
Vitamin C increases the production of white blood cells in the body, key players in your immune system that protect against bacteria and viruses. When one of these invaders enters the body, it attaches itself to a healthy cell in order to multiply. Evidence suggests that vitamin C has can defend against organisms that harm healthy cells.
Vitamin C protects cells throughout the entire body because it plays a role in the production of collagen — a major building block of skin, bones, muscles, tendons, blood vessels, body tissues, and teeth. Collagen forms and repairs connective tissues inside your digestive system to keep your gut healthy and strong. A healthy gut leads to a healthy immune system!
Getting plenty of vitamin C can also keep your skin healthy, which is your body’s first line of defense.
Helps You Breathe Easier
Feeling stuffed up and having trouble breathing is super uncomfortable and frustrating. Fortunately, supplementing with vitamin C can ease the incidence and severity of some respiratory symptoms.
There’s evidence that the more vitamin C you consume, the better your lung function will be, both when you’re healthy and sick. Vitamin C supplementation has been shown to halve respiratory symptoms after short-term heavy physical stress, too.
When your airways are not hydrated, it can lead to respiratory discomfort and you may experience a cough. Taking more vitamin C may keep your respiratory tract hydrated. That the respiratory tract can do its work, protecting you from potential pathogens and clearing them out.
Works Synergistically With Zinc
Like vitamin C, zinc plays a central role in supporting the immune system. When taken together, the two micronutrients work in concert with one another. These two essential nutrients can ease respiratory symptoms, including those caused by viruses.
In our modern world, pollution in the environment around us can cause oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress happens every day. While some oxidation occurs every day during bodily processes, when your antioxidants can’t keep up, it causes cellular degeneration and ultimately aging. This is why health concerns become more frequent with age.
Making sure you have enough vitamin C and zinc in your system can reduce the risk of oxidative stress. This, in turn, will help keep you healthy, especially if you’ve been in close contact with others who are feeling unwell. Choose an organic, plant-based zinc supplement like Global Healing’s liquid Zinc that is gentle on your stomach.
Best Vitamin C Supplement
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that you must regularly consume for you to maintain a healthy body. Even with a nutritious diet, you may find it challenging to get enough vitamin C from foods. A supplement may help.
If something impairs your ability to absorb vitamin C from food — such as smoking or living with a chronic health condition — a deficiency is possible. Daily dietary supplements can provide peace of mind that you’re getting enough for optimal health. As a water-soluble vitamin, you will excrete any excess in urine.
Vitamin C supplements come in many different forms, including:
- Chewable tablets
Plant-based sources are best because ascorbic acid is only one part of the vitamin C complex. Plant-derived vitamin C ensures that you get the suite of cofactors and bioflavonoids that improve absorption and function within the body. In contrast, 95 percent of store-bought vitamin C is synthetic, made from ascorbic acid only, and usually derived from GMO corn. Look for a plant-based, certified organic vitamin C supplement.
Points to Remember
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient. As an immune system booster, it’s one of the most potent antioxidants available. Because it’s water-soluble, it isn’t stored in the body. You must continually replace it by eating vitamin C-rich foods or with dietary supplements.
Vitamin C is popular thanks to its wide array of health benefits, particularly its ability to strengthen the immune system. It improves wound healing time, protects cells, and produces collagen throughout the body. It also works with other antioxidants such as vitamin E and zinc. To fully receive its benefits, it’s important to consume it daily.
Vitamin C is generally safe for everyone, and the body eliminates what it doesn’t use. Too much vitamin C is unlikely to be harmful, but if you end up with too much of the vitamin, you may experience mild side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, or headaches.
Zinc & The Immune System: Learn How It Works
When Thomas B., a technical director from Sherwood, Arkansas, started looking at all the benefits of taking the essential mineral zinc, he was amazed. “I started reading about zinc and knew I had to start using it,” he says. “I remember thinking: How could I be missing something this important?”
Thomas takes zinc as soon as he thinks he might be coming down with a cough or cold. The key is to take zinc within 24 hours of developing symptoms because that’s when it’s most effective.
“Zinc is my go-to whenever I’m coming down with something,” says Erin F., a writer from Flemington, New Jersey. “As soon as I feel that familiar post-nasal drip in the back of my throat, the one that warns of a cough or oncoming cold, I reach for it.”
Keep reading to find out about the crucial role zinc should have in your supplement regimen.
What Is Zinc?
Zinc is an essential trace element that your body needs for different cellular processes, such as dividing cells, making proteins and DNA, healing wounds, and activating enzymes.
Your body needs zinc to support healthy and clear skin, brain and eye health, and the immune system. It also plays a role in testosterone production and male sexual health.
Your body can’t store zinc, so you have to get enough daily. According to the United States Office of Dietary Supplements, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for most adult men and women is 8 mg. When pregnant, the need increases to 12 mg.
How Does Zinc Deficiency Affect the Immune System?
If you are low in zinc, it affects your immune function by increasing your risk of getting an infection. This mineral affects your body’s ability to make immune cells and produce antibodies that are necessary for the immune response.
Without enough zinc, your body can’t make and activate immune system cells like T-lymphocytes — white blood cells that shut down infected cells.
You’ll find zinc in every cell of your body. It’s involved in over 300 enzymes and 1,000 transcription factors — proteins that help in cell division by copying DNA. You can’t be in full health if you don’t get enough of this mineral.
Why Zinc Is a Great Immune System Booster
From a runny nose that won’t stop to a scratchy throat, getting sick makes it hard to focus on anything else.
When you feel poorly, it can force you to miss school, work, or other activities. The good news is that zinc may help you kick the sniffles and aches to the curb — before they begin.
Below are the top ways that zinc boosts the immune system.
Helps With Common Cold Symptoms
When people think about dealing with a sickness, they focus on cold remedies or different ways of managing the symptoms. But a robust immune system can help prevent you from getting sick in the first place. We know that taking zinc when you first notice the sniffles or a cough can lower the severity and duration of your symptoms for both adults and kids. Research suggests that upping your zinc intake within 24 hours of when you feel something coming on makes it most effective.
Many parents are seeing the benefits of giving zinc to their kids. “I started giving my 12-year-old daughter, Natalie, zinc after one snowy winter when everyone around us was getting sick,” says Mary M., a nursing student from Chicago, Illinois. “I added zinc to her daily vitamins, and she’s been feeling great.”
Has Great Antioxidant Properties
Zinc has strong antioxidant properties that help your body deal with free radicals such as reactive oxygen species (ROS), unstable molecules that damage cells and tissues Antioxidants — from vitamin A to zinc — counteract the oxidative stress from these free radicals. Oxidative stress over time can lead to chronic disease.
Zinc works as well as other potent antioxidants, like vitamin C. When 3,640 adults with macular degeneration (a type of eye disease) were split up into groups, the ones who took zinc showed the same improvement in vision as those who took other antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene).
Promotes Natural Wound Healing
When you get a cut or a scrape, you probably reach for a bandage. But you might also grab some zinc. This trace mineral plays a part in many wound-healing processes, including repairing membranes, coagulating blood, fixing tissues, and forming scars — not to mention your body’s immune defense response.
Topical zinc applied as a paste to the skin is particularly effective for wound healing.
Thomas uses zinc when he gets a cut on his hand. “I’ve used zinc for wounds before. I feel like it really helps,” says Thomas. “I believe it makes my whole body function better and heals faster.”
How Zinc Works
So how does zinc actually work inside the body? When you have an infection, your body recruits zinc to the scene. Zinc not only helps produce proteins that help in the immune response but also stops their production when they’re no longer needed. So zinc helps regulate an “on-off” switch in the immune system.
When an infection or injury occurs, so does inflammation — think of the swollen, red tissue near a cut. On most days, you don’t want to have inflammation in the body, but during an infection, it plays an essential immune system role. Typically, white blood cells rush to the scene of an injury, protecting your body from bacteria or other invaders. That inflammation should stop once the body’s normal response has dealt with the infection.
What happens when there is a deficiency in zinc, according to fascinating research out of Ohio State University, is that the whole system malfunctions. This leads to excess inflammation since zinc isn’t there to turn the switch off. That can lead to excess puffiness, redness, and swelling
During an illness or infection, the body also diverts zinc from the blood to organs, so taking more during these times ensures that the whole body keeps enough in circulation.
Best Zinc Sources
It’s possible to get zinc from both food and supplement sources, but not everyone eats a well-balanced diet. I recommend using plant-based foods to get enough zinc daily. Remember, your body can’t store this mineral, so you must continue consuming it every day.
Best High-Zinc Plant-Based Foods
Some of my favorite high-zinc foods include:
- Dark chocolate
- Nuts: cashews, pine nuts, almonds
- Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, peas, beans
- Seeds: pumpkin, sesame, watermelon
Zinc-Rich Strawberry-Guava-Watermelon Smoothie Recipe
I find that smoothies offer a quick and delicious way to get the nutrients you need in your diet. You can drink them on the go or at home, so they’re convenient. It’s best to drink smoothies naturally sweetened with fruit, but you can use honey or monk fruit if you feel you need them. You can use fresh guava, but because they’re a tropical fruit, it may be easier to find them frozen.
- Cutting board
- 2 cups of fresh watermelon
- 1 cup of cashew or almond milk
- 1 cup of fresh or frozen strawberries
- 1 banana
- ¼ cup frozen guava
- 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds
- Cut up the watermelon into small cubes without the rind. Make sure to keep the seeds, which are high in zinc and entirely edible.
- Slice the banana.
- Remove stems and leaves from strawberries and wash them. Cut them if they are large.
- Add all the ingredients to a blender.
- Blend until smooth. Make sure the seeds get crushed well.
- Serve in a glass and enjoy!
As a supplement, you can find zinc lozenges or syrup. You can also find zinc in liquids, tablets, and capsules. I recommend avoiding zinc nasal sprays or gels because they may affect your sense of smell.
Erin prefers to take zinc by mouth. “When I feel an oncoming cough or congestion, I reach for my zinc supplement, wash it down with plenty of tea, and finish it off with a solid’s night sleep,” she says. “By taking zinc once in the morning and once before bed, I’ve been able to avoid the sickness that’s been invading my office.”
If you’re having a hard time getting enough zinc from your diet, try Global Healing’s liquid Zinc supplement. It includes Energized Trace Minerals™ to maximize absorption and optimize benefits. This vegan blend of highly bioavailable, plant-based zinc is derived exclusively from organic guava leaves.
Points to Remember
Are you wondering if you should try zinc for seasonal ailments? Zinc is an essential mineral that your body needs every day but can’t store. It’s involved in a variety of cellular processes, including wound healing, the immune response, and cell division.
We know that zinc can help at the first sign of the sniffles or a cough, but it’s important to take it within 24 hours of symptoms showing up. Zinc also has excellent antioxidant properties that help fight free radical damage in cells.
Plant-based foods like nuts, legumes, seeds, and oatmeal, are the best sources of zinc for your diet. If you’re worried that you’re deficient in zinc, or you want to boost your immunity during the winter months, then consider taking a supplement.
Global Healing’s Zinc is a safe, vegan, liquid blend made from organic guava leaves.