If you live in the bay area, flu season is at its peak. Now’s the time you wake up in the morning with that little tingle in your throat or that annoying runny nose. There’s a war going on inside your body—a war between those nasty foreign invaders, such as bacteria, viruses or mold—and your immune system.
If you want to help decrease the length of time you may get sick, it’s always a good idea to keep your immune system well supported with nutrients.
Whenever I feel like I am on the verge of becoming sick, one of my favorite to-go supplements is Vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which helps neutralize free radicals in the body. This process supports the immune system so we have a better chance of not getting sick.
And that’s not all. Vitamin C does a bunch of other things from supporting collagen formation, keeping our skin, bones, and muscles healthy and functioning properly, to keeping our adrenal glands functioning properly—both norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline) require optimal vitamin C levels. Therefore, make sure you’re getting a good amount of vitamin C when you’re stressed!
Signs of Deficiency
As long as you are eating high-quality vitamin C-containing foods (see below), there’s a good chance you will be meeting optimal levels. But be aware, vitamin C deficiencies could cause anything from fatigue, depression, muscle weakness, joint and muscle aches, to bleeding gums and rashes on the legs. And even in more rare cases, individuals who are deficient could develop the debilitating disease, scurvy (1).
How much Vitamin C Should I Take?
At this point, I hope you’re pretty much sold on vitamin C. To make sure you’re getting optimal levels, it is advisable to eat the right kind of high-vitamin C containing foods. Although oranges and other citrus often get all the attention for containing vitamin C, there are a lot of other foods that have much higher amounts.
For your viewing pleasure, here’s a list of some high vitamin C-containing foods:
- 1 tomato = 22 mg
- 1 lemon = 32 mg
- 1 orange = 70 mg
- 1 cup of papaya = 72 mg
- 1 kiwi = 74 mg
- 1 cup of strawberries = 84 mg
- 1 cup of brussels sprouts = 96 mg
- 1 hot chili pepper = 109 mg
- ½ of cantaloupe = 113 mg
- 1 broccoli spear = 141 mg
- 1 red pepper = 141 mg
- 1 medium guava = 242 mg
- 3.5 oz. rose hips (which are the little fruits from the rose) = 242 mg
Be aware that vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. And like all water-soluble vitamins they are very sensitive to heat, air, and sunlight. That means when you cook or dry these high vitamin C-containing foods, you are also destroying some of the vitamin contained in the food.
Now that you know what are some good sources of this immune supporting vitamin, you might be curious to know how much vitamin C should be consumed per day. The Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of the Sciences has a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA); for males, 19 and older it’s around 90 mg; women, 19 and older, around 75 mg. With that said, RDA is a TERRIBLE metric for how much we actually need. I see RDA as the bare minimum—basically to pretty much stay alive. Not a great way to know how much we really need if you ask me… I always suggest looking at a better measurement such as Suggested Optimal Daily Nutritional Allowance (SONA), which is closer to the 1,000 mg (1 gram) mark.
Should You Supplement?
With all that said, especially during the flu and cold season, sometimes food isn’t enough. Taking a high-dose vitamin C supplement can be very effective at wiping out any immune system stressors, but be aware of a few things before popping a bunch tablets.
Luckily vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. This means that it’s extremely difficult to experience vitamin C toxicity. In fact, when I am sick I sometimes take up to 5 grams of vitamin C per day.
A warning when taking high-dosages of vitamin C:
- Don’t take your daily dose of vitamin C in one sitting—spread it out throughout the day—and take it with food!
- If you decide to take vitamin C in higher amounts, slowly increase the amount you take each day. I would recommend increasing in 1 gram doses each day.
- Continue to increase your dosage till you feel you are getting better. Definitely stop if you get digestive upset or diarrhea.
- When you decide to stop taking vitamin C, slowly decrease the amount you take each day. Again, I would recommend decreasing in 1 gram doses.
- Do not take high-dose vitamin C if you have digestion or kidney issues.
- This is only a short term intervention. I do not recommend taking high levels of vitamin C for extended periods of time. To be safe, cycle on and off in weekly intervals.
Take a high-quality version of vitamin C
Vitamin C, or commonly known in the supplement world as ascorbic acid, is what you will most often find in a vitamin C supplement. Ascorbic acid can be found naturally or synthetically, but over 95% of the vitamin C supplements on the shelf will be the synthetically, lab-created version. In fact, most supplements that use vitamin C use this version, and whenever a food product is fortified with vitamin C you can expect it will be the synthetic ascorbic acid. And let’s not forget that this lab-created vitamin isolate tends to come from corn, which is most likely of the GMO variety, since most corn produced in the U.S. is indeed GMO (2).
The research is mixed on pure ascorbic acid, but my take is whenever supplementing, to choose a whole food-based supplement or at least something that is as close to its form found naturally in food. There was one study that the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published that showed a small improvement in absorption with taking ascorbic acid with bioflavonoids (vitamin P)— the version closer to simply eating the food version of vitamin C (3).
Personally, I recommend a version of vitamin C that contains both ascorbic acid with bioflavonoids. And find a version that is GMO-free and food-derived. Most likely this will be labeled on the package, because making a supplement like that certainly will cost more and those vitamin manufacturers are going to want to tell you why their product is higher in price.
That’s it for now. Feel free to leave me any comments or questions below. Thanks for reading and may health be with you.