MadSci Network: Immunology

Re: How does vitamin C make the immune system strong?

Date: Mon May 3 09:25:30 1999
Posted By: Glynis Kolling, Grad student, Food Science, Rutgers Univeristy
Area of science: Immunology
ID: 925175748.Im

Pigeon -
   This is a very good question that you asked.  To the best of my 
knowledge (and from a literature search), we don't know exactly how it 
works.  There is a lot of interesting work currently being done to 
understand more about the human immune system as a whole. I can tell you 
what I do know about Vitamin C and where it is needed in the immune system. 
   One known function of Vitamin C in the immune system is aiding in the 
killing power of neutrophils.  Neutrophils are cells involved in the "first 
line of defense" of the immune system.  Netrophils will engulf (eat) 
harmful bacteria and viruses in an effort to stop an infection.  Once the 
neutrophils have engulfed any of the above, they use powerful oxidation 
reactions to kill or inactivate these agents.  Studies have shown that 
Vitamin C increases the killing power of neutrophils; therefore, making the 
immune system stronger in a sense.  

   Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is sometimes referred to as an 
"antioxidant" or a "sequesterant".  Antioxidant means that it can inhibit 
oxidation reactions.  In the body, oxidation reactions can be quite 
harmful, leading to the damage of cells and DNA. We don't know if Vitamin C 
acts to slow or stop these reactions.  The body does have other 
effective systems built in to stop these reactions.     
   Its sequestering properties, or ability to "chelate" (tie up) certain 
metal ions may also play an important role.  There are many metals that are 
important for many forms of life including humans, animals, bacteria, etc. 
Therefore, the body has mechanisms to keep a strong hold on these metals.  
At the same time, harmful bacteria which may cause infections, also have 
mechanisms to take these metal ions from the body.  Again, we don't know if 
Vitamin C acts in the body by "tieing up" metal ions.

   All of the functions that I have mentioned may be important for the 
immune system to function effeciently.  In any case, it is important to get 
your RDA of Vitamin C and other nutrients to be healthy.  The immune system 
is a very complex and very interesting subject. I hope that what I have 
told you helped.  Maybe as you continue your studies into high school and 
college, more facts will be known about how Vitamin C works in the immune 

   - Glynis 
   Graduate Student/Food Microbiology  


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