Vitamin C (also known as Ascorbic Acid) is a crucial antioxidant nutrient that has myriad health benefits and functions in the body. This water-soluble vitamin, commonly found in citrus fruits and many vegetables, helps in the maintenance of skin integrity, absorption of essential minerals, production of vital neurotransmitters, and more. Not just an antioxidant, Vitamin C can also aid in reducing blood pressure, easing oxidative stress, and alleviating inflammation.
Vitamin C is often referred to as the celebrity of vitamins. Everybody knows they need it, but very few people understand precisely why.
While some scientists consider it a "magic bullet" that can prevent or improve a wide range of conditions, others swear that vitamin C is mostly hype and that you should focus on it only in case of a deficiency.
The reality is that vitamin C is much more than just an antioxidant. It ensures the integrity of your skin, the absorption of minerals from food, and the production of neurotransmitters for your brain.
Even if you are not deficient in this essential vitamin, increasing your intake may benefit your blood pressure, oxidative stress levels, skin health, inflammation, and more!
Keep reading to discover more about the importance of having adequate vitamin C levels, how much you need, and the most effective way to boost your intake.
What is vitamin C?
Ascorbic acid, also known as Vitamin C, is arguably the most popular antioxidant vitamins.
It works as a reducing agent since L-ascorbic acid transforms into Dehydro L-ascorbic acid, which means it donates electrons to stabilize oxidative molecules.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant, and your body can easily limit its absorption in your gastrointestinal tract. It's susceptible to oxidative stress caused by environmental factors, so it gets deactivated if not stored properly.
Thanks to its antioxidant properties, ascorbic acid can neutralize free radicals, reducing their damage and lowering oxidative stress in your body. Free radicals play a role in inflammation, heart disease, metabolic problems, and even the development of certain types of cancers.
Neutralizing free radicals can help minimize the collateral damage of inflammation, boost immunity, and reduce DNA damage.
Other roles of vitamin C also include as a reducing agent for many enzymes in the human body which synthesize vital molecules. Examples include:
- neurotransmitters - serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine
- connective tissue - collagen
- metabolic compounds - carnitine
Furthermore, the vitamin has a favorable effect on the gastrointestinal system by boosting iron absorption and preventing the transformation of nitrates into nitrosamines.
Nitrates can help supply your body with nitrogen to produce vasodilators like nitric oxide (NO). NO causes blood vessels to widen, lowers blood pressure, and stimulates the release of certain hormones, such as insulin and human growth hormone.
However, it is crucial to prevent the transformation of nitrates into nitrosamines since studies link the latter to cancer (1).
On the other hand, plant foods rich in nitrates do not increase cancer risk because they contain antioxidants such as vitamin C, preventing conversion.
Yet, processed meat and other artificial food sources of nitrates do not contain any vitamin C, and scientists have linked them to an increased risk of gastrointestinal cancers.
Benefits of vitamin C
Vitamin C is most famous for its benefits against infectious diseases such as the common cold and other upper respiratory conditions.
Although the research suggests that supplementing with the antioxidant will not prevent the occurrence of a common cold, there is some evidence that taking vitamin C at more than 200 mg a day may help to treat the common cold by shortening the duration of the symptoms up to 12% (2).
Besides, ascorbic acid has significant benefits beyond immune function and inflammation. It may help reduce oxidative stress, lower blood pressure, slow down atherosclerosis, prevent iron deficiency, and improve skin health.
Can vitamin C improve your cardiovascular health?
High blood pressure is one of the most significant risk factors for heart disease.
In combination with its weak diuretic effects, scientists have discovered that long-term supplementation with at least 500 mg of vitamin C can lead to a slight reduction in blood pressure (5).
Can Vitamin C help combat anemia?
Vitamin C can help combat a specific type of anemia called iron deficiency or microcytic anemia. Ascorbic acid improves the condition by boosting nonheme iron absorption.
Nonheme iron can be found in plant foods and has extremely poor bioavailability. In contrast, heme iron comes from animal products and is considerably better absorbed in the human gut.
The antioxidant ensures that the nonheme iron does not oxidize, significantly improving its bioavailability in the human gastrointestinal tract.
Studies report that consuming 100 mg of vitamin C may improve iron absorption by 67% (7). This can help normalize iron absorption and low levels of serum iron in patients with microcytic anemia.
For example, one trial in children reported that supplementation with ascorbic acid alone was sufficient to control mild iron deficiency anemia (8).
Can Vitamin C improve wrinkled skin and wound healing?
Vitamin C is crucial for your connective tissue's normal function and healing. It is the primary antioxidant in your skin. Its central role there is to ensure the normal formation of collagen.
Wrinkling is caused by the reduction in the collagen levels in the skin, and vitamin C is of utmost importance for its normal regeneration. Besides, smoking and UV light exposure depletes your vitamin C levels in the skin and speeds up skin aging.
According to a nutritional survey of more than 4 000 women, higher oral vitamin C intakes were associated with a lower likelihood of a wrinkled appearance (9).
Skin healing also depends on the speed at which new collagen can form. In one clinical trial, patients with pressure sores treated with ascorbic acid experienced double the improvement seen in the placebo group (10).
A more recent study investigating the effect of vitamin C in combination with zinc and arginine also showed significant benefits for healing pressure ulcers (11).
In addition, collagen supplementation can further enhance skin healing. For example, collagen peptides can stimulate the production of hyaluronic acids in the skin and thus increase its hydration.
Scientists have revealed that collagen supplementation can stimulate the production of stronger collagen fibers (12).
Furthermore, adding collagen to your routine can stimulate the growth and migration of fibroblasts (13). Those progenitor cells play a crucial role in skin healing and repair after any damage.
Thus, vitamin C and collagen supplementation have several benefits for your skin, including anti-aging, improved resistance, and better skin healing.
Vitamin C rich foods to include in your diet
Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best sources of ascorbic acid. Here are some numbers on the best sources of vitamin C (14).
- Raw red pepper (1 cup) 190 mg
- Raw green pepper (1 cup) 120 mg
- Strawberries (1 cup) 95 mg
- Oranges & orange juice (1 cup) 90 mg
- Grapefruit (1 medium) 80 mg
- Broccoli (1 cup) 80 mg
- Kiwi (Medium size fruit) 70 mg
- Cantaloupe (1 cup) 68 mg
- Cauliflower (1 cup) 50 mg
- Potato (1 small) 40 mg
- Tomato (1 medium) 35 mg
- Pineapple (1 cup) 24 mg
- Banana (1 fruit) 12 mg
Other great options rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants include asparagus, papaya, brussels sprouts, kale, lemons, etc. Unless you consume these foods daily, you may want to consider a vitamin C supplement.
Remember that cooking destroys most vitamin C in foods, so you will have to consume those foods raw where practical. A small baked potato has only 15 mg, less than half of the levels found in its raw form, but uncooked potatoes are not edible.
Even if you eat foods rich in ascorbic acid several times a day, adding a supplement will not cause any harm.
Consuming a little too much of the antioxidant is not a concern since any excess is excreted, but excessive amounts, over 2g a day, may lead to gastrointestinal problems and diarrhea.
Since vitamin C is eventually metabolized to oxalate, too much oxalate can lead to health conditions like kidney stones. The vitamin increases the excretion of uric acid through the kidney, which may also form kidney stones.
Supplementation is unsuitable for patients with high iron stores and hemochromatosis (15).
Are you getting enough vitamin C?
If you do not have at least several servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, then maybe you are not consuming enough vitamin C.
According to the latest guidelines by EFSA, the recommended daily vitamin C intake is 90-110 mg per day (16).
However, certain population groups such as smokers, athletes, lactating women, and others may need at least 200 mg per day to replenish their antioxidant stores.
The human body can have up to 2g of vitamin C in reserve. However, your body can't produce vitamin C on its own, and instead, it depends on your diet.
If you are not consuming any vitamin C, the reserve can be depleted in 1-3 months. Since the ascorbic acid in your body can get oxidized easily, exposure to toxins and inflammation can speed up its depletion.
If this amount drops under 300 mg, this increases the risk of developing a vitamin c deficiency called scurvy which comes with its own set of health risks.
Symptoms of vitamin c deficiency include anemia (a condition in which the number of red blood cells or hemoglobin concentration within them is lower than normal), weakness, fatigue, easy bruising, spontaneous bleeding, pain in the lower limbs, swelling, ulceration of the gums, loss of teeth, corkscrew hairs, and poor wound healing.
If left untreated, the scurvy can progress to jaundice, neuropathy, hemolysis, seizures, and death.
Testing the serum vitamin C levels is not always sufficient for the diagnosis of scurvy since they reflect recent dietary intake rather than long-term vitamin C status.
The vitamin C deficiency can be managed quickly via therapy with vitamin C. If you are not consuming several fresh fruits and vegetables daily, you may require supplementation.
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Note: This article is for informational purposes only, and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your health care provider before starting any dietary supplement.