Even since man learned sailing and went on long expeditions, they began to grasp the importance of Vitamin C for humans. The sailors were developing scurvy, a disease with early symptoms of deficiency include weakness, feeling tired and sore arms and legs, that if left untreated leads to decreased red blood cells, gum disease, changes to hair, and bleeding from the skin.
Vitamin C is one of the safest, effective and popular micronutrients due to its role as an immune booster and source of energy, activity, and happiness. For a while, it was considered a cure for the common cold, but clinical studies did not confirm it. It can though help prevent more serious complications like pneumonia and lung infections.
Also called ascorbic acid, this vitamin is soluble in water and is essential for collagen, carnitine and neurotransmitters biosynthesis and for the catabolism of tyrosine. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies and is the main component of connective tissue. It has a huge role in keeping the body parts together and is especially present in skin, bones, and muscles.
Most animals and plants are able to synthesize Vitamin C on their own, but humans (and apes) are lacking this ability. This is caused by mutations of the L-gulono-γ-lactone oxidase (GLO) gene which codes for the enzyme responsible for catalyzing the last step of vitamin C biosynthesis1)The Genetics of Vitamin C Loss in Vertebrates. This means we have to get our Vitamin C from our diet.
6 Important Benefits of Vitamin C
1. It is a strong antioxidant
Vitamin C is a key antioxidant of the Central Nervous System (CNS). It is released in the brain, where it is used by “neurons to oxidize reactive oxygen species generated during synaptic activity”2)Old Things New View: Ascorbic Acid Protects the Brain in Neurodegenerative Disorders.
2. Promotes neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity
A 2019 study on mice, led by researches in Korea, showed that Ascorbic acid is essential for normal brain development and homeostasis. It promotes neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity, attenuates neuroinflammation, and they conclude it “is a useful anti-brain aging agent”3)Ascorbic Acid Mitigates D-galactose-Induced Brain Aging by Increasing Hippocampal Neurogenesis and Improving Memory Function.
3. Lowers the blood pressure
Vitamin C is a diuretic, meaning it makes the liver remove more water and sodium from the body. This helps relax the blood vessels, resulting in decreased blood pressure and better cardiovascular health, leading to a lower incidence of vascular events4)Vitamin C in plasma is inversely related to blood pressure and change in blood pressure during the previous year in young Black and White women.
4. Increases iron absorption
Studies show ascorbic acid enhances the availability and absorption of iron from non-heme iron sources (plant-based sources). Iron is very important for the body, primarily for its role in oxygen transportation in the blood5)Vitamin C in Disease Prevention and Cure: An Overview.
5. May help prevent atherosclerosis
Multiple studies linked Vitamin C deficiency to enhanced accumulation of cholesterol in thoracic aorta along with pathomorphological changes in blood vessels, and that Vitamin C administration leads to a significant reduction in LDL and an increase in HDL. Vitamin C also strengthens the artery walls through its participation in the synthesis of collagen and by preventing the undesirable adhesion of white blood cells to damaged arteries, helping prevent atherosclerosis 6)Vitamin C in Disease Prevention and Cure: An Overview.
6. Helps maintain healthy skin and hair
The above-mentioned role in collagen building and iron absorption has a key role in maintaining healthy skin and hair. Lack of enough Vitamin C can lead to the formation of small acne-like bumps on the arms, thighs or buttocks.
Best Natural Sources of Vitamin C
- citrus fruits and juices
- thyme and parsley
- sweet potatoes
- red cabbage
- Brussels Sprouts
- red and green peppers
Beware that cooking may diminish or even deplete the Vitamin C content. Because it is water-soluble, boiling affects the Vitamin C content the most, leading to losses of up to 50%7)Effects of different cooking methods on the vitamin C content of selected vegetables. Even if you do not cook the fruits, for example, cutting or peeling them will start the oxidation process and Vitamin C starts to fight against this process by providing electrons. This means the electrons you want to be used for your cells are used to fight oxidation before you get to eat the fruit.
Signs of Vitamin C Deficiency
In adults, the symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency manifest weeks or even months after the vitamin’s depletion. The early signs are:
- weight loss
- weak immune system
- rough and dry skin
After a few months of Vitamin C absence, the scurvy symptoms appear:
- follicular hyperkeratosis
- coiled hair
- swollen, purple, spongy, and friable gums
If left untreated, scurvy evolves and worse and worse symptoms appear, like teeth becoming loose and avulsed, spontaneous hemorrhages, etc.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 75-90 milligrams. This is a very low dosage, as many medical opinions converge towards a 500 mg and up to 1000 mg daily intake as supplements, besides what you get from fruits and vegetables. The upper safe limit for Vitamin C intake is 2,000 mg, so taking a 500 mg supplement can’t bring you even close to a danger zone.
When to take it: in the morning and evening, but it’s best not to take it after a workout, because it can negate the insulin sensitivity gained from exercise.
Vitamins C is not stored in the body, so excess amounts are excreted and don’t lead to intoxications. The effects of overdosing are stomach upset and diarrhea – not pleasant n any way, but also not life-threatening like fat-soluble vitamins can be (for example Vitamin A).
Vitamin C Supplements
There are many forms of Vitamin C offered as supplements, ranging from synthetic to natural or mineral. There are companies that sell natural sourced Vitamin C that launched the idea that the natural form is way better, naming it “whole Vitamin C” and claiming the “true” Vitamin C is “actually a complex of nutrients that includes bioflavonoids, rutin, tyrosine, copper and other substances”. In general, I tend to go the nature’s way and I incline towards natural sources, but in this case, I don’t, and here’s why: as mentioned earlier, most animals are able to synthesize it, and what their liver produces is L-ascorbate, identical to the synthetical molecule. The body produces the form it needs to use, so I believe L-ascorbate is exactly what we need. What you need to look for is Sodium Ascorbate, and avoid Calcium Ascorbate, because it is toxic8)Natural versus synthetic vitamin C – Dr Suzanne Humphries.
If you want to go for the natural version, pay attention to the label as some contain also fillers and synthetic L-ascorbate besides the natural source. They are also much more expensive than the synthetic version.
The powder can also be used on skin, for example for bug-bites. You just need to make a paste by adding some water and put on the skin. Careful not to put on open wounds, as it will hurt a lot.
The lypo-spheric version has an oil-based coating for the sodium ascorbate, helping in the absorption process (and some claim it reaches the brain easier) but also being easier on the digestive tract.
If you went through the entire article you have a good idea about the importance of Vitamin C for humans. Since we can’t synthesize it like most animals and plants, we need to take it from our diet. It is used for a lot of functions, from being essential in collagen creation, to being a very strong antioxidant, helping in iron absorption or promoting neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity.
The best source is from fruits and vegetables, but it is very difficult to get enough from a normal diet, so supplements are recommended. Aim to add 500 mg or 1000 mg of Vitamin C as supplements to your diet.