Should you be taking a vitamin C supplement?

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, vitamin C supplements have been cleared off the shelves of grocery stores because it’s thought to improve immune function and prevent you from getting sick. Vitamin C has also been supplemented into teas and foods to promote “immune boosting effects”.

Let’s talk about this….

What is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin that is very important for good health.

Vitamin C is a very strong antioxidant that protects our cells from damage. It is also essential for collagen synthesis which is necessary for healing wounds and helps the body absorb iron. Lastly, vitamin C is very important for a healthy immune system. Vitamin C does a lot for the body, so I understand why people are rushing to take a supplement.

Can vitamin C boost the immune system?

A common claim on the packages of vitamin C supplements is that they will boost your immune system. I’ve mentioned before that no diet is going to prevent you from getting sick. This is why physical distancing and washing your hands is so important.

However, there’s no food that will "boost" the immune system either, or at least not in the way you're thinking. A boosted immune system would mean that your immune system would attack every cell in your body. This is not something you should be striving for. Luckily, vitamin C supplements do not boost the immune system.

So if a Vitamin C supplement won’t boost the immune system,

what can it actually do?

The truth is, not much. In the general population there's no evidence to say that taking a vitamin C supplement will prevent you from getting sick. There is some evidence to suggest that daily supplementation might reduce the duration of the common cold. So that is one benefit to taking a supplement, but there’s no evidence (yet) to support taking a vitamin C supplement for COVID-19.

Are vitamin c supplements safe?

Vitamin C supplements are pretty safe to take. However, there may be adverse side effects to taking a supplement that might be worse than the actual cold. Side effects like nausea, diarrhea, cramping and potentially kidney stone formation in those who are susceptible.

How should I be getting my vitamin C?

Vitamin C is very important for our health and it’s important to consume it regularly. However, you don’t need a supplement to meet your daily needs! You can get enough vitamin C to surpass your daily needs from many fruits and vegetables.

Oranges (obviously), kiwi, peppers and broccoli are all good sources. Not only are you getting your daily dose of vitamin C, but you’re also getting a whole bunch of other nutrients that are good for your health. You can’t go wrong with the food source, which is why I recommend you ditch the supplements and go for the food instead!

Is there anybody who needs more vitamin C than the general population?

Apart from vitamin D, you should only be taking a supplement if your primary care provider recommends it. With vitamin C, those who smoke are at an increased risk for vitamin C inadequacy. Smoking increases oxidative stress and requires more vitamin C to combat this. For this reason, smokers require a higher vitamin C intake than than non-smokers, but this too can be achieved through food.

Bottom line:

Vitamin C is very important for good health and healthy immune system. However, supplements won’t boost the immune system and there’s only a little bit of evidence to support taking it daily to reduce the duration of the common cold.

My recommendation? Stick to food sources of vitamin C and don’t smoke.