Vitamin C is one of the most popular supplements that people use when they want to fill in nutritional gaps for the things they aren’t getting in their diet. There are a variety of types of vitamin C supplements available.
For example, there are vitamin C gummies, capsules, and liquids. There are combination supplements that include vitamin C and also liposomal options that are designed to maximize absorption.
Since we’re heading into winter, which is notorious for colds and the flu, you might be especially interested in vitamin C right now.
With that in mind, the following are things to know about this powerful nutrient.
1. The Basics
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid. The nutrient is one that the body uses to form collagen, muscle, cartilage, and blood vessels.
An antioxidant, vitamin C protects your cells against free radical effects. Free radicals are molecules your body produces when it’s breaking down food or is exposed to sun radiation, tobacco smoke, X-rays, or other sources.
There’s evidence that free radicals could play a role in cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. When free radicals accumulate in your body, they lead to oxidative stress, which is why they’re believed to cause chronic diseases.
Studies indicate that upping your intake of vitamin C can increase the level of antioxidants in your blood by up to 30%, helping your body naturally fight inflammation. Your body can’t produce its own vitamin C, so you have to get it from your diet or take it as a supplement.
Foods with vitamin C include citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, and spinach, among others. The recommended daily intake is 75 mg of vitamin C for women and 90 mg for men.
2. It’s Water-Soluble
Vitamin C is water-soluble, which means your body doesn’t store it. Water-soluble vitamins are dissolved in water, and our tissues absorb them quickly so they can be used immediately. Since our bodies don’t store vitamin C, we need to regularly make sure we’re replenishing it.
If you have an excess of water-soluble vitamins, your body will get rid of them in your urine. B vitamins are also water-soluble, like vitamin C.
3. Vitamin C Helps Prevent Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency and anemia are major problems for a lot of people, especially women. Iron is a nutrient that is needed so that our bodies can make red blood cells. Iron is also used for transporting oxygen around the body.
Taking a vitamin C supplement with iron from your diet or in supplement form can help its absorption. Vitamin C helps convert poorly absorbed iron, like plant-based iron, into a form the body can better absorb. If you follow a meat-free diet, this can be especially important.
Just 100 mg of vitamin C can increase iron absorption by 67%. In some research, a vitamin C supplement alone helped control mild iron deficiency anemia.
4. Immune Health
Winter is the season when everyone seemingly gets sick, so it’s also a popular time to take vitamin C supplements. Vitamin C is involved in aspects of the immune system’s function.
Vitamin C encourages the production of white blood cells, including phagocytes and lymphocytes, which protect against infection. Vitamin C helps these cells not only form but also function more effectively.
Research shows people with pneumonia tend to have lower vitamin C levels. Additionally, vitamin C supplements can shorten the recovery time of people with pneumonia, while low levels are associated with poorer health outcomes.
Vitamin C can also help with wound healing, and it’s actively transported to the skin, where it strengthens its barriers.
5. It’s Good For Your Brain
Vitamin C, since it is a strong antioxidant, may help protect against dementia and cognitive decline. Oxidative stress and inflammation in the central nervous system can raise the risk of dementia. Low vitamin C levels are linked to impairment in thinking and memory.
Several studies have found people with dementia have lower blood vitamin C levels. Vitamin C from food or supplements can have a protective effect on memory and thinking.
With vitamin C, it’s important to realize that our intestines have a limited ability to absorb it.
The absorption of the vitamin goes down to less than 50% when taking amounts of more than 1000 mg. In adults who are generally healthy, while mega doses of vitamin C aren’t toxic, absorption does decrease once your tissues are saturated. That means the excess is excreted via urine.
Also, while not necessarily harmful, mega doses of vitamin C can lead to adverse effects like diarrhea. This is usually a risk when taking more than 3000 mg a day.
7. Chronic Disease Protection
We talked about this above, but currently, there’s ongoing research to look at the benefits of vitamin C for protecting against chronic diseases.
Studies looking at groups of people over extended periods of time have seemed to find a protective effect of higher intakes of the vitamin from certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
With that being said, other studies haven’t found the same thing, and randomized controlled trials to this point haven’t found the benefits of the vitamin for the prevalence of cancer or cardiovascular disease.
8. Deficiency Symptoms
A true vitamin C deficiency is rare in developed parts of the world but can happen. If you have a limited diet that’s not high in fruits and vegetables, you abuse drugs or alcohol, or you smoke, you’re more at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Other people at risk of vitamin C deficiency include individuals with long-lasting diarrhea, disorders that cause inflammation, an overactive thyroid gland, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people who have just gone through surgery.
Some of the signs of a deficiency of vitamin C include skin spots from bruising and bleeding, which come from broken blood vessels, and swelling or bleeding of the gums.
Hair loss, fatigue, delayed healing of skin wounds, and iron deficiency anemia can also indicate a vitamin C deficiency. Someone with a vitamin C deficiency could also feel irritable and have dry hair and skin.
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