Bottom Line/HEALTH: While the world chases around looking for treatments for these creepy viruses that are running around—ebola, enterovirus—what if the answer is as simple as vitamin C?

I’m Sarah Hiner, president of Bottom Line Publications, and this is our Conversation With the Experts, where we get the answers to your tough questions from our leading experts.

Today I’m speaking to Dr. Andrew Rubman, a leading naturopathic physician and the medical director of the Southbury Clinic in Southbury, Connecticut. Dr. Rubman is also a contributing medical editor to Bottom Line. So welcome, Andy. It’s always great to see you.

Dr. Andrew Rubman: Hi, Sarah.

Bottom Line: Vitamin C. Classic, old-fashioned, but truly one of your favorite, favorite immune boosters. What makes it so incredibly powerful?

Dr. Rubman: It participates in just about every physiological process in the human body. From birth to death, from outside to inside, vitamin C always has a role. Making sure that you have enough of it in your diet is key to controlling the progress of just about any disease process we know and is really essential for health of just about everyone on the planet.

Bottom Line: What makes C such a powerful immune booster? Is it because it protects and regenerates the tissues that it keeps things from permeating the tissues?

Dr. Rubman: It helps with tissue regeneration—proper regeneration, because improper regeneration we call cancer. It helps to prevent against inflammatory cascades. It helps in normal maintenance functions. It helps with detoxification. It helps to prolong the more subtle interactions that go on in the body involving enzymes and hormones. And all of those things that I mentioned further participate in other or myriad interactions.

Bottom Line: Scientists have been very busy trying to research all sorts of immune-boosting things. How come there’s nothing new or better than vitamin C?

Dr. Rubman: Because what’s found in nature usually trumps anything that mankind can create.

Bottom Line: Is vitamin C something that people should take just on an ongoing basis, again, prophylactically, to build up the immune system? Or is it best taken on an episodic basis when someone’s getting sick?

Dr. Rubman: It should be part of one’s daily diet. One can supplement additional vitamin C by itself in addition to that, but vitamin C is really only as good as its cofactors and its co-conspirators—cofactors like bioflavonoids and rutin and hesperidin.

Bottom Line: You’re saying if I just take a vitamin C pill, it doesn’t absorb on its own? It needs all its other buddies that come in as fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Rubman: It would be absorbed, but it doesn’t work on the tissue as well. There was an experiment that was done with dental students where they gave them gum injuries intentionally and then just gave them vitamin C and saw how long it would take to recover. And then they gave them vitamin C and bioflavonoid, injured the other side of the mouth, and saw how long it would take them to recover. The recovery time was almost cut in half with the bioflavonoids.

Bottom Line: So what’s the best way, then, for people to use vitamin C as an immune booster? Again, on an ongoing basis, just to be strong? And is it then effective if you feel a cold coming on or you get a scratchy throat?

Dr. Rubman: When a cold’s coming on and you get a scratchy throat, you should take additional vitamin C. It’s important to take vitamin C away from meals…it’s important to spread it out over the course of the day. Even though ascorbic acid is an acid, it’s relatively alkaline compared to the stomach acid, so you want to take it away from meals.

Bottom Line: Even though you need the food to make it work?

Dr. Rubman: You need the food factors to make it work. If you’re taking additional vitamin C, you need to separate it from that. And there’s no problem in taking additional food factors to make it work better, like dark berry juices are wonderful for vitamin C to work. Fruit pectin helps the bacteria in the large intestine to better appreciate vitamin C. Having the other antioxidant vitamins—beta-carotene, vitamin E and the mineral zinc—potentiate the function of vitamin C. So it’s very much a team player.

Bottom Line: Let’s imagine I’ve got a scratchy throat and you want to supplement. Which vitamin C should somebody take to really knock that out in the first place?

Dr. Rubman: They would probably want to take between 2,000 and 3,000 milligrams, and they would probably, with a scratchy throat, want to gargle and then swallow so they had good exposure. With sore throats, taking adequate amounts of zinc is also very, very important, and there are other botanicals that can be thrown in to help with the sore throat. But that’s a good ballpark for vitamin C.

Bottom Line: Will vitamin C help defend people from the ebolas and the enteroviruses or whatever virus du jour is running around?

Dr. Rubman: Yes, absolutely. We have to remember that as virulent as a pathogen is, its ability to successfully attack an individual not only depends on that virulence, but also depends on underlying host resistance. This is something that we forget oftentimes in the modern day and age of miracle drugs.

Bottom Line: Anybody that shouldn’t take vitamin C?

Dr. Rubman: Not usually.

Bottom Line: Except if you take too much, it might affect your stomach and give you some diarrhea?

Dr. Rubman: Well, you take too much, you can get diarrhea from it. You can sometimes disturb the body’s normal clotting mechanisms. You might upset the balance with other antioxidant vitamins. But it’s pretty difficult to do that to yourself.

Bottom Line: If it’s not to knock out a specific cold or flu, what’s the standard amount of vitamin C that someone might want to take each day?

Dr. Rubman: As a health-boosting, immune-boosting supplement for daily use?

Bottom Line: Tissue-maximizing, yeah.

Dr. Rubman: Between 1,000 and 2,000 milligrams is generally regarded as a good modest therapeutic amount.

Bottom Line: Great. Thank you so much, Andy. The bottom line on vitamin C? It is a great immune booster. Boring, simple, been around for forever, but it’s effective. Now, the key is you can’t just take vitamin C and be done with it. It works best when it has healthful fruits and vegetables that help support it, give it all the other elements that vitamin C needs to be able to be absorbed and used properly in your body.

You can take it every day to be able to maximize your immune system, 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams. But when you have that scratchy throat or you really want to boost yourself because you’re fighting something, you can take 2,000 to 4,000 milligrams a day. This is Sarah Hiner with Bottom Line.