Should I eat citrus to strengthen my immune system?

What do you do when you start to feel sick? Maybe when there’s a tickle in your throat, you try to start your day with a hot, lemon tea. Perhaps you add an orange to your lunch box for the week if you start to feel a little under the weather. Or, if your nose is starting to run, you might run to the store to grab some Emergen-C. Why is it that we add citrus to our diet when we don’t feel well?

There’s a good reason for adding citrus to your normal routine, especially when you don’t feel your best. Citrus fruits, like oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes, are full of Vitamin C. VItamin-C is known to help boost the immune system, so it’s no wonder we rush to get some in our system at the first sign of a cold. However, Vitamin C doesn’t actually prevent you from getting a cold in the first place. So, what exactly does it do?

When your immune system is weakened (1) by something, like a virus, or poor nutritional habits, it’s common for it to respond with inflammation (2). When you have inflammation in your immune system, you will likely notice the symptoms. You may run a fever, which can result in a flushed face, or you may simply feel exhausted.  Vitamin C is an antioxidant, and one of its roles as one is to reduce inflammation. So, adding those extra oranges and grapefruits to your diet when you don’t feel well will help you feel better. The increase in Vitamin C helps decrease your inflammation, which in turn reduces the severity of your symptoms. 

In one clinical study, children ages 3 months through 18 years. These kids all had cold symptoms, like runny noses, fatigue, chest pain, and fevers. Every day, these kids would be given at least the daily recommended amount of Vitamin C. Some of them were given extra doses of it. The study showed that extra supplements of Vitamin C helped reduce the length of the common cold (3). So, while Vitamin C may not prevent the cold altogether, nor will it get rid of the cold entirely, it will help reduce your symptoms and the length of time you feel unwell.

When you’re in the grocery store, you may notice products, like orange juice, that boast the amount of Vitamin C it provides in each serving. Some might tell you that one serving will provide you all of the Vitamin C your body needs per day. As we see when it comes to caloric intake, no body is built equal. So, the amount of Vitamin C you need each day may differ from the amount your brother, sister, or best friend should be having. The Harvard Medical School broke down how much different people should be adding to their diets, so you can take a look at its article to see how much you should have (4). For most adults, 75 mg is the recommended amount. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you’ll want to increase your intake to about 120 mg. 

While it’s fine to go over the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C, you’ll want to be wary of having more than 2,000 mg of Vitamin C per day. The symptoms aren’t deadly, but they won’t be enjoyable. If you have too much, you may have diarrhea, headaches, or insomnia because of it (5). Vitamin C is in most fruits and vegetables, with higher amounts being in citrus fruits. If you want to make sure you’re getting enough in your diet, or if you’re wary of having too much, check out Medical News Today’s list of how much Vitamin C is in these 20 common foods (6).

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