How Does Vitamin C Aid the Immune System?

Learn how this essential nutrient boosts immunity.

Sign that says "boost immunity" surrounded by healthy food

Vitamin C supports the immune response in several critical ways, one of which functional physician Gary Plotnikoff, MD,  likens to a janitor who mops up after an immune reaction storms through.

“Vitamin C supports the production and function of white blood cells,” he explains. When a type of white blood cell called a neutrophil encounters a problem microbe, it douses it in a shower of cells called superoxide radicals — a disinfecting substance Plotinkoff compares to chlorine bleach.

“One of the functions of white blood cells is to create and release the most powerful form of bleach on the planet, which is great for getting rid of bacteria, viruses, cancer, and the like,” Plotnikoff says. “If you’re spilling bleach everywhere, you need mops to clean up the damage. C is one of those mops.”

Free radicals have extra, unpaired electrons that create a vacuum, allowing them to “hoover up” unwanted cells, he explains. But left unchecked, these unstable cells attack everything in their path.

The immune response “releases free radicals that kill the virus, but kill our cells and tissues as well,” says functional-medicine physician Terry Wahls, MD.

Vitamin C helps to neutralize the aftereffects. It’s highly concentrated in neutrophils, helping them to kill the virus; afterward, it helps transform neutrophils by donating spare electrons to the “charged” free radicals, restoring them to a balanced state.

C is called an “antioxidant” because it halts oxidation after an infection.

This was excerpted from “What You Need to Know About Vitamin C” which was published in Experience Life magazine.

is the Experience Life features editor.

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