How vitamin C supports the immune system.
Our immune system is designed to protect us from infection and disease and is incredibly complex. Its complexity is due to the many and varied types of cells that respond to a multitude of different microorganisms. We are continually generating immune cells and our body’s do remarkably well at protecting us most of the time. To function well our immune system requires balance and harmony and is strongly influenced by the nutrients we absorb from our diets. Our need for particular nutrients varies depending on several factors including external influences such as the seasons.
Vitamin C is one of those nutrients thought to be essential during the winter months, especially in relation to the common cold. This is not an unreasonable assumption to make given that several cells of the immune system can accumulate vitamin C and need this vital vitamin to perform their task. It can be said that a deficiency in vitamin C results in reduced resistance to certain pathogens, whilst an increased supply enhances many of our immune system functions. Indeed research confirms that vitamin C concentrations in the blood plasma and white blood cells decline during infections and stress. As well as this, studies have shown that vitamin C enhances the production and function of phagocytes; these are the white blood cells that ingest and absorb pathogens or release enzymes to destroy them. Vitamin C is also a highly effective antioxidant that protects the body’s cells against reactive oxygen species (ROS). Excessive generation of ROS in the body is thought to be implicated in the development of a disease.
So, should we be topping up with vitamin C to protect us from winter bugs? Scientists have debated over this for many years and where the common cold is concerned to have produced conflicting evidence. Results from a recent meta-analysis of the available research carried out by the Cochrane Collaboration, has revealed that vitamin C cannot be said to reduce the likelihood of catching a cold. However, on a positive note, it did confirm that vitamin C does have an effect on the duration and severity of colds.
In light of this evidence and what we do know about how vitamin C deficiency reduces our resistance to foreign invaders and supports the immune system, it would seem prudent to include vitamin C in a winter supplement programme. This is particularly important if you are elderly, have a poor diet or do not have access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
Jacqueline Newson BSc (Hons)
Nutritional Therapy, Abundance and Health