What makes vitamic C important enough to the immune system to warrant it as one of the first recommendations for when you get sick?


What makes vitamic C important enough to the immune system to warrant it as one of the first recommendations for when you get sick?

In: Biology

Vitamin C is important for a lot of things, and humans are one of the few mammals that don’t produce it in the body. We have to get it from food, and since hydration is especially important when you’re sick it’s just easier to drink something like orange juice.

Nothing. It’s just a discredited theory that still gets kicked around a lot but won’t really help you.

We don’t exactly know. What we do know is that it is taken up a lot by immune system cells and immune precursor cells, it seems to promote proliferation of lymphocytes and that levels drop quickly when immune activity is high, this would suggest that it plays an important role in our immune system. We just don’t know exactly what.

However, there have been many studies to prove this and the evidence is very contradictory. There appears to be no real benefit to starting taking it once you are ill. There also seems to be no real decrease in the frequency of illnesses if taken regularly. There is some evidence that it may decrease how long you are ill if you take it regularly. However, at this time, there is nothing to really say it improves things, unless you have scurvy of cause and then it is the only treatment.

In very young children, it seems to have more of an effect and children, especially those under 3, with vitamin c deficiencies seem to have a weaker immune system compared to other kids their age.

But, vitamin c is relatively harmless. It is a water soluble vitamin, so you only absorb what you need and the rest is excreted. If you take too much, most of the time the worst that will happen is you may get an upset stomach. So it is worth trying to see if it helps, even if that help is just a placebo effect.

Note: not all vitamins are safe in excess. Fat soluble vitamins (A D E and K) can cause serious problems if you take too much as can minerals such as calcium, iron, folate etc. Also, it’s not advisable to take ridiculous amounts of water soluble vitamins either and I am absolutely not suggesting that is something people should try. Just that there is minimal harm that could occur from taking vitamin c for a couple of days when you are ill.

TL;DR the evidence is inconclusive and it probably does very little, if anything, however it’s safe enough that it’s worth trying.

Unless you have vitamin C deficiency, (i.e. Scurvy) vitamin C won’t benefit you especially if you have a cold, any more than it normally would.

This is an urban myth that has been discredited.

Moreover vitamin C has a very limited shelf life. Commercial “dietary supplements”(which often make dubious medical claims) contain very little of the compound if they have been stored for more than, say, 3 months.

But many people in industrialized areas don’t get enough vitamin C due to lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet. So it doesn’t hurt to eat more broccoli or oranges if you’re not feeling well.

Note that most living things are able to synthesize this compoun as needed, from glucose. Humans and other great apes are rather unusual in that we carry a gene mutation that prevents one key step in this process. But it’s not really a problem if you’re an omnivore.