Yes, but healthy immunity requires more than a single vitamin.

With cold and flu season approaching and people thinking about how to avoid getting sick, conversation often turns to supporting the body’s immune system. Vitamin C is an important part of that discussion. So its worth looking at Cs role in immunity as well as how you can benefit from it.

Some basics

Vitamin C is a vital nutrient that our bodies cannot make. We need to take in new supplies each day, usually in the form of fruits, vegetables and juices, or dietary supplements.

As for the immune system, it’s a complex combination of barriers, chemicals and specialized cells all designed to do one thing: protect your body from invasion. Optimizing such a finely tuned system isn’t as easy as taking any one supplement.

C-ing is believing

That said, vitamin C does play an important role in supporting a healthy immune system. Decades of research show that vitamin C improves blood levels of many key components of that system, including supporting the body’s so-called killer cells that attack invading microorganisms.

Vitamin Cs antioxidant action may also benefit the immune system. Some evidence has shown that supplementation with C may support the activation of cells involved in protecting the elderly from abnormal tissue growth and play a role in immune response in individuals exposed to environmental sources of free radicals, such as cigarette smoke and ultraviolet light.

What to watch out for, what to take

While vitamin C can deliver real benefits for components of your immune system, there are also misleading claims about it. Some supplement makers claim that taking mega-doses of their products will protect you from all disease.

That’s a myth. The best way to build a strong immune system is to foster overall health: Eat a diet rich in fresh produce, exercise, get enough sleep and manage stress.

Remember, your body needs to replenish its supply of C every day. If you cant get the Daily Value of 1,000 milligrams through your diet, consider a supplement. Try taking a supplement every day, with meals. You can get C in tablet form, but it’s also available in powdered and liquid forms as well as buffered tablets that are easier on the stomach.

Get enough vitamin C. Give yourself a healthy edge this winter.

Dr. Andrew Myers is an expert in nutrition and preventive medicine and the co-author of Health Is Wealth: 10 Power Nutrients That Increase Your Odds of Living to 100 and Health Is Wealth: Performance Nutrition.Visit healthiswealth.net for more information.