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How many times have you been told: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”?
There are several commonly used phrases in the English language about nutrition, building a strong immune response to fight infection, and overall health. Some consider these clichéd words of wisdom to be “old wives’ tales,” but what if some of these phrases have been around for centuries because they evolved from seeds of truth? This article will guide you through some common words of wisdom as they relate to the body’s immune response. Do apples really have enough vitamin C to support a person’s health and immune response? Does a spoonful of sugar really make the medicine go down?

More importantly, how can we apply the truth from a cliché to our current approach to immune system health?

Could an Apple Cliché Contain Seeds of Truth About Immune Response?

Clichés are overused phrases people expect to pop up in certain conversations. When discussing health, it’s guaranteed that someone will use a cliché to give advice. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” comes from apples’ traditional use in Ayurvedic medicine over 1,500 years ago. [1]

The phrase itself, however, was first recorded in Wales around 1860: “Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep a doctor from earning his bread.” Historically, apples have been known for over a thousand years as a natural aid to ailments. Apples are also rich sources of natural vitamin C: One medium-sized apple has 10% of the recommended Daily Value of vitamin C! [2]

Our Bodies Don’t Make or Store Vitamin C.

Therefore, the ability to fulfill 10% of the recommended daily intake from one apple is impressive. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C make it a powerful and necessary defense against free radicals and illnesses. Boosting vitamin C intake for immune support is not just old or common advice: It’s also good advice!

Remember when you were a child, and your mother reminded you to eat more fruit and vegetables? Or when she forced you to endure the chalkiness of those horrendous chewable vitamins? She knew – just like her mother knew – that vitamin C is the body’s rock star and one of the most important nutrients for the immune response.

Topsy-Scurvy: The Vitamin C Dilemma

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that we have to seek for ourselves. The body doesn’t make or store it, so most of the vitamin C we need daily comes from foods and supplements.

In fact, severe illness and death can occur when the body is vitamin C deficient for long periods of time. Unfortunately, this illness wasn’t understood for hundreds of years, resulting in countless deaths from the 15th century until the 19th century. Thousands of sailors lost their lives on long sea voyages after contracting scurvy, a painful and deadly illness caused by severe vitamin C deficiency. Scurvy showed the same debilitating symptoms as other deadly illnesses during the 1400s-1800s, which made its cure even more mysterious. [3]

When Life Gives You Lemons, Give Them to a Sailor

When a British surgeon discovered the link between vitamin C and scurvy in the 1800s, he started distributing limes to each sailor before long journeys. Even though lemons are a more powerful source of vitamin C, lemons were hard to come by at the time. Limes were accessible and effective enough to help British sailors through a long sea journey without scurvy. [3]

Fun fact: American naval officers took longer to connect scurvy with vitamin C deficiency. They mocked British sailors for carrying limes everywhere, calling them limeys and lime-juicers. [3] Those insults may seem a bit lame to us now, but they were extremely degrading and derogatory at the time. The insults stopped when American sailors realized citrus could mean the difference between life and death at sea.

The History of Scurvy Should Teach us that Vitamin C Deficiency is No Joke.

This powerful vitamin is critical for building a healthy immune response but can’t be a last resort when you feel sick. Building the immune response from vitamin C and receiving all its incredible health benefits is not as simple as popping vitamin C supplements like breath mints during the cold and flu season.

One clinical study found that “Vitamin C in large doses administered before or after the appearance of cold and flu symptoms relieved and prevented symptoms in the test population compared with the control group.” [4] In fact, dozens of studies have shown how beneficial vitamin C is for the immune response, and they all essentially conclude the same: Vitamin C is a powerful vitamin for our bodies!

Vitamin C Supplements vs. Natural Sources

Don’t take a cheap supplement. Your body deserves a pure supplement made from whole foods if your doctor advises it. Supplement forms of vitamin C have unnecessary ingredients and fillers that are not beneficial for your immune response or overall health. Some supplements include maltodextrin and ascorbic acid, fillers made from GMO corn. Many popular supplement brands also have sugars or harmful food dyes. If you must take a supplement, please read the ingredients to ensure you’re taking a high-quality one.

However, it’s unlikely you’ll need to take a supplement – unless you’re planning to set sail across the Atlantic Ocean in 1608 with salted meats – because vitamin C is common in so many fruits and vegetables. Don’t neglect the humble vegetable, the less attractive sibling of the produce family. Though frequently overshadowed by fruit, vegetables also have several beneficial nutrients, including vitamin C. The best sources of vitamin C are kale, Brussels sprouts, beet greens, and peppers.

Food is what fuels you and whole foods are the best fuel. However, eating lots of sugary, processed foods creates barriers for your body to use and absorb those supplements effectively. You can’t easily recover lost nutrients with a supplement.

No Sugarcoating Here: Sugar and the Immune Response

What does sugar have to do with vitamin C and immune response? Sugar is the silent dictator of the body’s healthy immune response, targeting those rebellious white blood cells. In fact, high blood sugar levels can drastically alter the body’s natural immune responses to infection. [5]

Certain white blood cells have receptors that allow different substances to enter, such as sugar and vitamin C. Therefore, eating large amounts of sugar too often dominates those receptors with sugar instead of vitamin C.

Why is This so Problematic for the Immune Response?

Oxidization causes rust within the cells and could potentially damage them. Remember: Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which essentially prevents cells from rusting. Sugar, on the other hand, oxidizes and rusts the white blood cells without allowing vitamin C to protect them from damage. If those rebellious white blood cells rust and die because of the fascist sugar dictatorship in your body, you’ll have no white blood cell warriors left to fight infection. Vitamin C can’t provide aid to your body’s rebellion at this point because all roads leading to the infection battle are blocked by sugar soldiers.

It only takes about 75 grams of sugar to weaken the immune system, and most Americans typically take in about 34 teaspoons – or about 142 grams – of sugar per day!  [6]

A Spoonful of Sugar Will NOT Make the Medicine Go Down

Sorry, Mary Poppins: You’re the queen of nannies but a troll of nutrition.  While some inflammation is a normal reaction for the immune response to fight intruders that threaten the body’s health, chronic inflammation is not.

In fact, a spoonful of sugar would actually cause inflammation that could damage your fragile gut as it tries feebly to fight. The damaged gut doesn’t accept help. Therefore, it will not absorb the strength-building nutrients your body needs to battle the inflammation once more.

Sugar feeds your body’s inflammation and actually makes it worse: The immune system must fight inflammation even harder but, in doing so, could potentially damage itself and the gut. When otherwise healthy adults ingested large amounts of sugar, test results indicated a greater inflammatory response and a higher resistance to insulin. [7]

Gut Health is Crucial to the Body’s Immune Response

When damaged or fatigued, the immune system can’t fight toxins, bacteria, or viruses as effectively as it should. Make sure you are taking care of your gut by eating whole foods, avoiding food allergies, skipping inflammatory foods, and adding plenty of fermented foods throughout your day.

Sauerkraut is the perfect example of a fermented food with lots of natural vitamin C as well!

Nature Doesn’t Grow Orange Juice: It Grows Oranges

It’s time to ditch the orange juice once and for all. One glass of orange juice is loaded with sugar, has no fiber, and ruins your beautiful smile with slimy strings of pulp. Smoothies are much healthier alternatives to orange juice for a vitamin C boost.

If your smoothie has a few servings of fruits and vegetables like kiwi, kale, beet greens, or strawberries, you are likely getting the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C in that smoothie.

Give your immune response extra support by adding one of these three vitamin C superfoods to your smoothie:

  • Camu Camu – A teaspoon of camu camu powder has 200 times as much vitamin C as a banana and 200 times more vitamin C than an orange. However, camu camu has a sour taste that would not pair well in a chocolate or peanut butter smoothie.
  • Kakadu Plums – This antioxidant fruit comes from Australia, but you can find a powder form for smoothies. Not only is this fruit high in vitamin C, but it’s also high in iron.
  • Acerola Cherries – These cherries are naturally sweet, which makes a delicious and vitamin C-rich addition to any smoothie.

Remember: Getting your vitamin C from whole foods rather than supplements is the ideal method for immune support!

The Verdict is in: Do Apples Keep the Doctor Away?

Several food studies have shown that in addition to its incredible amount of vitamin C, eating more apples lowers the risk of several chronic conditions and supports overall health in the following ways:

  • Lowered risk of stroke [8]
  • Lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease [9]
  • Reduced risk of developing type II diabetes [10]
  • Increased bone density and lowered risk of osteoporosis [11]
  • Reduced oxidative stress and supporting brain function to slow mental aging [12]
  • Increased feelings of fullness to support healthy weight [13]

Yes: It seems that an apple a day DOES temporarily keep the doctor away!

Remember that many other fruits and vegetables have vitamin C, too! 

There is no magic pill for supporting a healthy immune response, especially at the last minute when the dreaded flu is circling your household. Vitamin C is a critical part of building that immune response, but you also need to give your body what it needs to fight infections effectively.

By the way, you don’t need to adopt some ridiculous apples-only diet plan to support your immune response. Clichés love focusing on apples, even though many other nutrient-rich foods offer similar benefits. If you think of a popular cliché for a different fruit, connect with us to let us know so we can write about it!

Need More Direction About Supporting Your Immune Response? The Wellness Way Can Help!

These foods may not be good for everyone. If you have food allergies, any of these healthy foods could contribute to chronic inflammation and health issues. You don’t know what you don’t know. Contact a Wellness Way clinic to get your food allergies tested, check your inflammation levels, and find out what’s going on with your gut health. We do health differently!  

Stay Informed! Check Out The Resources Below:

Nature’s Gold – Delicious Recipes to Support Vitamin C:

Videos and Webinars:

Immune System: Why so much confusion? | A Different Perspective |
The Swiss Watch Principle | Instant Info
Sugar: A Question of Glucose Availability and Absorption | A Different Perspective

Articles to Further Your Immune Response Education:

Vitamin C: How Does it Impact Cardiovascular Disease? 
The Immune Response: What You Need to Know

References

  1. History Behind ‘An apple a day’ | The Washington Post 
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture | Agricultural Research Service | FoodData Central
  3. The British Limeys Were Right: A Short History of Scurvy | health.mil
  4. The Effectiveness of Vitamin C in Preventing and Relieving the Symptoms of Virus-Induced Respiratory Infections |Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics | PMI (nih.gov)
  5. The Effect of Short-Term Hyperglycemia on the Innate Immune System | Department of Internal Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center | PMI (nih.gov) 
  6. Doctors Warn That Sugar Can Temporarily Weaken Your Immune System
  7. Acute Effects of Feeding Fructose, Glucose, and Sucrose on Blood Lipid Levels and Systemic Inflammation | Lipids in Health and Disease | PMI (nih.gov)
  8. Colors of Fruit and Vegetables and 10-year Incidence of Stroke | Wageningen University, Division of Human Nutrition | PMI (nih.gov)
  9. Apples and Cardiovascular Health—is the Gut Microbiota a Core Consideration? | Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition and Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research | PMI (nih.gov) 
  10. Fruit Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Results From Three Prospective Longitudinal Cohort Studies | Harvard School of Public Health | Department of Nutrition | PMI (nih.gov)
  11. Greater Intake of Fruit and Vegetables is Associated with Greater Bone Mineral Density and Lower Osteoporosis Risk in Middle-Aged and Elderly Adults | PMI (nih.gov)
  12. Comprehensive Review of Apples and Apple Components and Their Relationship to Human Health | Advances in Nutrition | PMI (nih.gov) 
  13. The Effect of Fruit in Different Forms on Energy Intake and Satiety at a Meal | PMI (nih.gov)

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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