It’s a well known fact that Vitamin C is a powerhouse when it comes to fighting cold and flu.
Undoubtedly you’ve been told to load up on it when you’re sick. Remember mum handing you a glass of orange juice when you were coming down with the sniffles? It turns out that there was actual science behind her madness.
We caught up with our favourite health nut, Nutritionist, Matt Edwards, to discuss what Vitamin C actually is, the best foods and supplements to give you that fix and how it really helps boost your immune system.
What is your immune system?
Before we delve into how Vitamin C boosts the immune system, it’s important to understand exactly what the immune system is and how it works. Like a protective suit, or mask (which thanks to the current global pandemic we’re all pretty well acquainted with) the immune system is the part of your body that protects you against outside attackers known as pathogens.
It’s made up of the innate and adaptive immune systems and includes a number of different organs, cells and chemicals that work together to help you fend off bacteria, fight infection and combat illness. Simply put, it’s the system that stops you from getting sick.
The innate part of the immune system is the bit that starts to work as soon as nasties such as pathogens (toxins) start to attack the body. It’s the part that we all associate with immunity, as it keeps out viruses, bacteria, toxins and stops them from spreading around the body.
The adaptive part of the immune system kicks in once we have been exposed to the toxins. It cleverly uses antigens to memorise the threat and enhance your immune system’s response, shortening your recovery time once you’ve caught a cold or flu.
It’s particularly clever, as it keeps an internal record of every germ (or microbe) that it has ever tackled so it can quickly recognise and defeat it should it enter the body again. These are known as ‘memory cells’ and they work hard to detect illness-causing microbes before they have a chance to multiply and make you sick.
LEARN MORE: HOW TO BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM >
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C or an ascorbic acid as it’s otherwise known, is a water-soluble vitamin that can be found in many common foods.
Often found as an ingredient in skincare and immunity boosting supplements, it’s known for being a powerful antioxidant that can have positive effects on your skin, bones, teeth and your immune system.
Matt explains: “Unlike animals, humans don’t produce Vitamin C. Therefore, it’s crucial that we get enough of it through our diet or supplements. The nutritional reference value (NRV) for Vitamin C is 80 mg per day which is easily attainable through diet and supplementation.”
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Does Vitamin C help the immune system?
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants are molecules that fight toxins known as free radicals within the body.
Vitamin C helps to boost the immune system in three ways. Matt explains:
“Firstly, it strengthens your body’s natural defence system by stimulating the production of white blood cells. Your blood is made up of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma - your white blood cells are your immunity cells - which means that they’re always at war - fighting against illness-causing bacteria and viruses within the body to help protect you.”
Vitamin C not only helps to stimulate the production of these infection-fighting white blood cells but it helps them to function more effectively, giving your body that extra ‘kick’ when it comes to fighting off illnesses.”
“Secondly, Vitamin C is a rich antioxidant which can help fight off free radicals before they have a chance to create oxidative stress. As we go through day to day life, we constantly produce free radicals through metabolic processes such as breathing and turning food into energy. What happens is that these free radicals build up and create something called oxidative stress, which occurs when there is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants.”
Last but not least, have you ever noticed that Vitamin C is a prominent ingredient in skincare products? Well there’s a reason for that.
“Vitamin C helps to strengthen the skin, a vital organ in protecting your body against infection.”
What foods can I find Vitamin C in?
People often associate oranges with being really rich in Vitamin C, but high levels can be found in lots of different foods. Some of the key ones include:
• Brussel sprouts
Matt says: “Whilst oranges are a good source of Vitamin C, if you’re not a fan there are plenty of other ways to get it into your diet. Some of my favourites vegetables are broccoli, peppers, tomatoes and kale, and my favourite fruits are papaya, strawberries and kiwi fruit, all of which are super tasty and really easy to incorporate into quick and easy lunches and dinners.
Supporting your diet with supplementation is also a really effective way of getting enough Vitamin C into your body without feeling like you’ve got to eat lots of additional food.
Supplements like the Known Nutrition Immune Boost Plus Gummy contains 100% of your daily recommended allowance, meaning you get immune boosting goodness in what is essentially a Vitamin C chewable tablet - except unlike a normal capsule, they taste pretty good.”
Can Vitamin C shorten the duration of a cold or flu?
So, we’ve established that Vitamin C is pretty damn good for boosting our immune system. But can it make you feel better once you’ve already got a cold?
Over the years multiple studies have shown that Vitamin C can both:
Pretty cool, huh?
But how much Vitamin C do I need to take to treat a cold?
Matt says: “Some studies have found that just 1 - 2 additional grams of Vitamin C was enough to shorten the length of a cold by 18% in children. Other studies have shown that you’d need to add 6 - 8 grams to see effective results in adults.”
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Vitamin C and Zinc: Do they work better together?
Okay, so we’ve established that Vitamin C is an immune boosting staple but what happens when it's mixed with other vitamins? In particular, Zinc.
Separately, Vitamin C and Zinc are two of the most effective vitamins when it comes to boosting your immunity. Together? They’re an immune-boosting power couple.
Remember when we mentioned that Vitamin C is amazing for fighting free radicals? Zinc is also pretty good at batting them off too. It also helps other cells in your body to work more effectively, supporting their function and helping your internal systems, in particular your immune system to function more effectively.
Matt says: “When you take these ingredients together, you supercharge your immune system, meaning you’re less likely to get sick and suffer from colds and flus. When taken separately, the intake of both Zinc and Vitamin C are often inadequate leaving your immune system compromised.
Taken together they work in harmony to play a central role in supporting your immune system, with Vitamin C increasing the production of white blood cells and Zinc reducing inflammation. These two essential nutrients can ease respiratory symptoms, including those caused by viruses and can reduce the duration of the common cold by up to 33%.”
Both Vitamin C and Zinc can be found in Known Nutrition’s Immune Boost Gummy Vitamins and Immune Boost+ Gummy Vitamins.