Getting sick is never fun. Whether it’s a common cold, the flu, or some other illness, being under the weather can really put a damper on your day. When illness strikes, many people turn to vitamin C as a natural way to help fight it off. This often leads to drinking extra orange juice, since it’s packed with vitamin C. But does loading up on OJ when you’re sick really help or is it an old wives’ tale? Let’s take a look at the evidence.
Vitamin C and the immune system
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an essential nutrient that plays many important roles in the body. One of its key functions is supporting the immune system. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals. It also helps stimulate the production and function of white blood cells, which are the main troops of our immune defense.
In addition, vitamin C assists in the formation of collagen, which helps maintain healthy skin and tissues that act as a barrier to viruses and bacteria. It also aids in the absorption of iron, which supports the function of immune cells.
Because of these key roles in supporting immune health, getting enough vitamin C is important when you’re sick. Even a minor deficiency can impair immune function and make you more susceptible to illness.
Vitamin C content of orange juice
Oranges are one of the best natural sources of vitamin C. One large orange provides over 100% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin C. Orange juice is produced by squeezing the juice out of fresh oranges, so it contains very high levels as well. An 8 ounce glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice has around 124 mg of vitamin C, or over 130% of the RDI.
|Orange Juice Type
|Vitamin C per Serving
|Store-bought (not from concentrate)
|Store-bought (from concentrate)
As you can see in the table, fresh orange juice has the highest vitamin C content. Store-bought varieties have slightly less, since they are pasteurized and often contain added ingredients. But in general, an 8 ounce glass of OJ will provide you with close to or even over 100% of your daily vitamin C needs.
Benefits of orange juice when sick
Drinking orange juice can provide a few key benefits when you’re under the weather:
- Vitamin C boost – Orange juice is an excellent way to get more immune-supporting vitamin C into your system when sick. This can help your body’s natural defenses fight off illness.
- Hydration – Many illnesses lead to fluid loss, so staying hydrated is key. Orange juice provides fluids along with nutrients.
- Energy – The natural sugars in orange juice can help provide a bit of an energy boost when you’re feeling run down.
- Tastes good – Even if you have a dulled sense of taste when sick, orange juice still provides a sweet, refreshing flavor that’s easy to get down.
Downsides of relying on orange juice
While OJ does have some upsides when sick, relying on it too heavily can have some drawbacks as well:
- High sugar content – Orange juice has a high natural sugar content. Consuming too much can spike blood sugar levels.
- Acidic – The acidity in orange juice can irritate certain throat conditions and upset the stomach.
- Not enough vitamin C – You’d need to drink a lot of orange juice to meet increased vitamin C needs when sick.
- Lacks other nutrients – Orange juice isn’t a balanced source of nutrients. It provides vitamin C but lacks other vitamins and minerals.
How much orange juice should you drink?
Moderation is key when it comes to orange juice. Here are some general guidelines on how much to consume when sick:
- Limit intake to one 8 ounce glass 2-3 times per day at most.
- Dilute it with water or club soda if the taste is too strong.
- Avoid guzzling large amounts at once. Sip it slowly.
- Brush teeth after drinking to prevent acid damage.
- Combine it with other fluids like herbal tea, broths, or water.
If your appetite is reduced when sick, orange juice can also be used to make smoothies containing bananas, yogurt, spinach or other nutritious ingredients.
Should you take vitamin C supplements instead?
In some cases, taking a vitamin C supplement when sick may be preferable to relying on orange juice alone. Here’s a comparison:
|Vitamin C Supplement
|Vitamin C content
|97-124 mg per 8 oz
|Typically 500-1000 mg per dose
|Provides some potassium, folate
|Usually just vitamin C
|High natural sugar
|Need to drink fluids separately
|Need refrigerated juice on hand
|Capsules can be taken anywhere
As you can see, supplements provide far higher vitamin C doses in one quick shot. But orange juice offers more well-rounded nutrients and hydration. The best approach may be to combine both – take a supplement to get a big vitamin C boost, while also sipping orange juice throughout the day.
Should you drink orange juice at the first sign of illness?
It’s best not to overload on orange juice at the very first symptoms of sickness for a few reasons:
- It can spike blood sugar, which bacteria and viruses thrive on.
- Too much acidity can irritate your throat and stomach.
- Starting slowly gives your body time to assess if the illness progresses or not before flooding it with vitamin C.
Instead, drink plenty of water and herbal tea at the first signs of illness. Start incorporating small amounts of orange juice only if symptoms persist or worsen. Choose low-sugar varieties and dilute with water if your throat is really sore.
What other foods contain vitamin C?
While orange juice is handy when sick, it shouldn’t be your only source of immune-boosting vitamin C. Try incorporating a variety of other vitamin C-rich foods and beverages when under the weather, such as:
- Red and green bell peppers
- Strawberries, kiwi, and citrus fruits
- Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and leafy greens
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
- Papaya and pineapple
- Fortified plant milks
Eating a rainbow of antioxidant-rich produce can give your immune system an extra boost. Vitamin C also absorbs best when consumed from natural food sources rather than juice alone.
Homemade orange juice remedies
Rather than relying on store-bought OJ when sick, you can mix up some homemade blends that incorporate fresh orange juice with other healing ingredients:
Honey Ginger Orange Juice
This warming combo helps soothe sore throats.
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Turmeric Orange Juice
Anti-inflammatory turmeric gives your immune system an assist.
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- Dash of black pepper
- Pinch of cinnamon
Orange Carrot Smoothie
Sweet carrots blended with OJ provide vitamin A for immune support.
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1 frozen banana
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 tbsp honey
The bottom line
When you’re under the weather, orange juice can be a convenient way to get more vitamin C and fluids into your system. However, it shouldn’t be your only source when sick. Consume orange juice in moderation and focus on getting vitamin C from a variety of whole foods. Supplement if needed to substantially increase vitamin C intake.
Drinking orange juice when sick has some benefits, but it’s no miracle cure. Focus on getting adequate rest and nutrition from a healthy diet to help your immune system fight back.